Lawrence, Kansas is home to a variety of treasures... a top-rated public research University, one of the best college basketball teams in the nation, and a pulsing live music scene. Even so, the town is far from perfect and faces a variety of socioeconomic problems, one of the most glaring being its rising homeless population.
A recent survey released by the city reports that the homelessness rate has increased in Lawrence by 32 percent in the last five years. That is four times higher than the total population increase. For many, these findings are overwhelming and might even prompt a feeling of hopelessness. However, for KU freshman Abrie Berkowitz, it is not a choice to sit on the sidelines.
Abrie, originally from Scottsdale, Arizona was avidly involved with community service efforts in high school. “[community service] is something that I don’t feel like I have to do, it’s something that I want to do and enjoy doing,” she said. She continued to engage with her interest by becoming the Director of Community Service for the Junior Panhellenic Association. In her position, Abrie oversees all community service opportunities for every freshman woman involved in Greek Life at KU.
For Abrie though, her commitment to community service expands beyond her formal role with Panhellenic. This past semester, she went on a one woman mission to make a difference in her community. She posted an appeal on Facebook for friends to donate to her effort to make goody bags to hand out to those in need in downtown Lawrence. In just over two weeks, Abrie had raised over $200 - enough money to make 20 bags full of supplies.
“I picked some stuff like Chapstick, hand warmers, gloves, just kind of a mix of things...food and hygiene products…” she explained. Once KU Hillel learned of Abrie’s project, the organization knew it wanted to help it grow. Emily Scholten, a KU senior and the Greek Engagement Coordinator at Hillel noted, “We heard about Abrie’s work and thought it would be a great service project for Hillel. We decided to make more of her goody bags at a student dinner and ended up making 30.”
By the end of April, Abrie had inspired the creation of 50 bags filled with snacks, hand sanitizer, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and more. She and a few of her friends took the bags out onto Massachusetts Street and passed them out to those in need.
Of the experience Abrie said, “It was so heartwarming to see how appreciative each recipient of a bag was. I can’t wait to continue doing other similar projects to this one in the future!”
Whether it’s in community service or in her work as a student pursuing a future doctorate in Physical Therapy, Abrie sees the connection between her Judaism and helping others.
“I think a big Jewish value is helping others...and repairing the world, and so that’s definitely in my service project...that tikkun olam aspect. I think the same idea applies to PT in that I will be helping patients feel better,” she explained.
In the upcoming Fall semester, Abrie plans to continue her involvement with Hillel by combining her passion for community service with engagement work. She hopes to create a community service event for Jewish freshmen on campus to participate in.
Sometimes our world can seem oversaturated with problems, with no clear answer in sight for how to repair what is broken. Sometimes this pushes us to throw our hands above our heads and exclaim, “What can I do? I am only one person!” However, Abrie is an excellent reminder that even just one individual has the power to affect real change. Armed with only a Facebook profile and the desire to make life a little better for those in need, she created a meaningful and impactful service project that benefitted her local community.
KU Hillel is inspired by Abrie’s drive to do what she loves and help others, and we are excited to continue partnering on various service projects. Kol haKavod, Abrie!