September 18, 2012
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Bar and bat mitzvah project ideas

Sharpen your soul

for The Brooklyn Paper

Photo gallery

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Attached, please find an image you can use in addition to a caption, and quote from Kevin Peters, President of North America at Office Depot.
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Rachel did so well that kids in surrounding communities also received pencils.
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A volunteer for the Pencil Project passes out the goods.
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Kids get psyched about all the things they can write.
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Rachel Manheim.
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Rachel has contributed to these children’s future.

Little things can have a big impact. A fallen acorn or seed can grow into a tree, which provides shade, shelter, and food for adorable woodland critters, helps clean the air and soil, and can provide people with lumber for homes, maple to yummy-up pancakes, and soft cedar for pencils.

And a small pencil can also have a huge effect — something that 14-year-old Rachel Manheim delightfully found out when she decided to embark on a mitzvah project with an organization called the Pencil Project.

We sat down with Manheim to find out how one girl from Rego Park, Queens can influence hundreds of kids in Malawi, Africa:

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Guide: Tell me a little about your project. How’d you initially come up with the idea?

Rachel Manheim: I knew I wanted to do a mitzvah project, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, and then one day my mom and I saw an ad in a magazine for an organization called the Pencil Project. They said that they donated pencils to needy schools in countries around the world. We did some more research by going online and we contacted its founder, Maria Vick, who matched us with a contact in Africa who knew of two schools in Malawi that were in need of school supplies.

BBMG: Did this project reflect your interests?

RM: I really like kids, education, and want to be a teacher when I grow up, so I felt that this was a perfect match. I like English, I like to write, and I also play the trumpet. Plus, I knew I wanted to help in some way. I heard a lot of different stories about things people could do to help and I felt like my bat mitzvah was the perfect time to do something. I wanted to look back on this experience and remember that I helped out someone while becoming a bat mitzvah.

BBMG: What was your goal?

RM: My initial goal was to get 1,300–1,500 pencils.

BBMG: Wow, that’s a lot of pencils! How’d you go about collecting that many?

RM: We asked people in our congregation at our temple to donate pencils by setting up a donation box. We also sent out a separate card in our invitations letting our guests know that they could mail pencils to us and we’d put them in the box. Our rabbi [Rabbi Gerald Skolnik of Forest Hills Jewish Center] also wrote an article in his newsletter about my project, so more people would know about it and hopefully donate.

BBMG: How many pencils did you end up collecting?

RM: My total was a little more than 3,400 pencils but we ended up getting a lot more thanks to Office Depot.

BBMG: How did Office Depot help?

RM: My mom and I reached out to them to see if they could help pay for a portion of the shipping, since they’re a school supplies store. And they said they would actually pay for all the shipping! They also reached out to two of their vendors [Dixon and Sanford] that make pencils and they also donated, so we ended up getting over 10,000 pencils to schools in Malawi, so more than two schools ended up getting the pencils [Editor’s note: combined Dixon and Sanford donated 8,000 pencils raising Rachel’s total to 11,000 pencils].

BBMG: What was the most rewarding part of the experience?

RM: A week or two after we shipped out the pencils, our contact sent us pictures of the kids at the schools getting the pencils and it was really cool to see. There’s one picture I love of them sitting down on the floor and receiving the pencils for the first time. The most rewarding part of the experience was seeing the kids’ faces and how happy they were.

BBMG: What kind of advice do you have for kids who may not want to do a mitzvah project?

RM: There’s a project out there for everybody, I wanted to do something that reflected my interests and I think other kids should do the same. So if you like sports, or even clothing, you can find a charity online where people can donate old clothing. It’s a really good feeling to know you helped someone in need.

If you’re interested in contacting the Pencil Project go to www.thepencilproject.com

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