Having Fun Raising Funds for Team Yachad

31 Dec 2014

Pinny Kwestel baked 4,000 mini chocolate and cinnamon bobkas (each about the size of a mini-muffin) after more than 14 hours in the kitchen on multiple weekends.

Not bad for a 16 year old high school student.

Pinny Kwestel, third from left, baked 4,000 mini bites of bobka to raise funds for Yachad.
Pinny Kwestel, third from left, baked 4,000 mini bites of bobka to raise funds for Yachad.

Pinny had first learned to bake while in middle school, selling his homemade baked goods. High school brought new responsibilities and little extra time for baking, but wishing to stand out from the crowd, Pinny decided on smaller, bite-size bobkas to sell for Yachad.

A simple email announcement to family, friends and neighbors around his home in the Five Towns section of Long Island, helped Pinny sell his homemade bake goods in batches of $20 for 25 mini-muffins, raising more than $3,000 to fund his participation in Team Yachad.

Yachad/the National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD) is an agency of the Orthodox Union dedicated to addressing the needs of all Jewish individuals with disabilities and ensuring their inclusion in every aspect of Jewish life. The inclusive design aims to ensure persons with diverse abilities their rightful place within the Jewish community, while helping to educate and advocate to the Jewish world for greater understanding, acceptance, outreach, and a pro-disability attitude.

Runners for Team Yachad are asked to raise $3,000, which covers all expenses for flight, hotel, Shabbat, local transportation, all meals, race registration, and Team Yachad gear.

“Team Yachad will work with each runner to ensure they raise their committed funds,” said Eli Hagler, Yachad associate director and Team Yachad member.  “Ultimately, the asking and the work needs to be done by the runner, but Yachad is here to share ideas, discuss strategies and help in any way the runner asks.  Reaching their fundraising goal is not their individual job, it’s our collective job. We help the runners every step of the way.”

As a first time runner in Team Yachad, Pinny wanted to enjoy the fundraising aspect of participation. “If a person is good at something, try to incorporate that skill or trait to raise funds,” he advised. “Many times people support you because they know the money goes directly to a good cause, not simply into your pocket.”

Team Junee fundraised $50,000 for Yachad.
Team Junee has raised more than $50,000 for Yachad.

Now for its third year, retail modest clothing store Junee and Junee Jr. based in Cedarhurst, Brooklyn and Lakewood, has been the corporate sponsor of Team Yachad. Beyond its corporate donation, the store has mobilized its own runners for Team Yachad, including owner June Aboksis. Store patrons have the option to donate to Yachad, participating within a Wheel-of-Fortune style bit. For $1, $2, or $5, costumers enter a raffle for store prizes. Junees has also coordinated a “Zumba-a-thon” which brought together 60 women to participate in the popular dance exercise for two hours and raised $3,000.

Together, June and her partners have raised more than $50,000 on behalf of the organization each year.

Team Yachad 2015 is comprised of 220 runners from Austin, Baltimore, Bergenfield, Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Bronx, Brookline, Brooklyn, Cedarhurst, Chicago, Clifton, Columbus, Dallas, Delray Beach, East Brunswick, Edison, Elizabeth, Englewood, Fair Lawn, Far Rockaway, Flushing, Fort Lauderdale, Fresh Meadows, Great Neck, Highland Park, Holliswood, Hollywood , Houston, Jacksonville, Jamaica Estates, Jericho, Lawrence, Lincolnwood, Livingston, Los Angeles, Merion Station, Monsey, Montreal, New Brunswick, New Rochelle, New York, North Woodmere, Oak Park, Ottawa, Passaic, Plainview, Rego Park, Scarsdale, Skokie, Southfield, Stamford, Staten Island, Suffern, Teaneck, Toronto,Valley Village, West Hartford, West Hempstead, West Orange, White Plains and Woodmere.

Shlomo Frishman, far right, with Team Yachad members 2014.
Shlomo Frishman of Minneapolis, far right, with Team Yachad 2014 members.

Minneapolis native Shlomo Frishman has been running with Team Yachad since its development six years ago.  As a high school student at Skokie Yeshiva in Illinois, Shlomo asked a friend familiar with the local Jewish communities to drive him around on Sundays, when Shlomo would knock on doors asking for donations.  He made sure to dress nicely, and came prepared with Yachad information. As the door opened, Shlomo would look for something within the home he could relate to—whether it be a mezuzah, or Minnesota Vikings paraphernalia—and after he introduced himself and what he was doing, he would try to build a rapport with the mutual connection.

“Going door to door can be awkward, but just be yourself and find something quickly you can relate to that person just to break the ice, ” Shlomo advised. “It’s easier to give if you have a relationship with the person and once you find some sort of connection, then they are more willing to give a donation.”

He added, “If you aren’t a professional fundraiser, the number sounds scary and intimidating, but if you change the way you view the fundraising goal by thinking ‘I really need a few people to give $18, $36 or $100—once you figure out how many people you know who can give you those amounts, it becomes easier.”

Once Team Yachad became popular around the Chicago area and within his school, Shlomo and his friends sat down to create a game plan to maximize efforts. “Our collective goals were to raise the most money we could for Yachad, but not step on each others’ toes.  At a certain point I no longer wanted to collect door to door if it meant intruding within the neighborhood of a fellow Team Yachad member,” he noted.

The boys divided up the local Jewish communities to collect on behalf of Team Yachad. Shlomo felt comfortable visiting non-Jewish areas and other Jewish communities.

A month before the Jerusalem Half-Marathon in 2013, CB Rothberg decided she wanted to run with Team Yachad. As a student at Queens College, the Kew Gardens Hills native walked around the kosher cafeteria on campus with an envelope labeled “Yachad” asking for donations. “People who didn’t even know me offered to give me their meiser money,” she said, bringing in about $200.

Team Yachad members Aaron Kaminas and CB Rothberg table for  Team Yachad donations to outside a popular grocery store in Queens.
Team Yachad members Aaron Kaminas and CB Rothberg tabled for
Team Yachad donations to outside a popular grocery store in Queens.

Due to limited time, she made sure to have a photo and detailed biography on the Team Yachad website and drafted a personalized email attaching a link for donations. She sent the email beyond friends and family, to co-workers, family of co-workers, synagogue members, family of friends, etc. In just under three weeks, she raised $3,450.

“When donations are slow, remember to politely follow up with those who did say they would give,” CB recommended. She also noted, “Don’t hesitate to contact the Yachad office for help or to offer other support to motivate you. Keep in mind you have a huge support team at Yachad always there for you.”

With the goal to run in Miami 2015, CB was recruited by friend and fellow Team Yachad runner Aaron Kaminas to set up a fundraising table outside of Seasons, a popular grocery store in their neighborhood. With permission from store management, the two and CB’s 16-year-old brother Shragi, wore Team Yachad jerseys and set up a table one night prior to Rosh Hashana and one night prior to Sukkot. They played music. They created fliers with information about Yachad. Total, they collected $800.

Reflected Aaron Kaminas, “From my time with Yachad, I have seen people do what others told them they couldn’t or what they themselves didn’t think they could. Fundraising for Team Yachad isn’t any different. We may think that we can’t but in reality, we all could. It is about being committed to raising the money and not being nervous to ask people. If it is something, you feel passionate about, it also something you should feel like you could do.”

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.