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This Bar Mitzvah Boy Raised a Whopping $10,000 for ALS Research

This Bar Mitzvah Boy Raised a Whopping $10,000 for ALS Research

When I was in fifth grade, my teacher, Mr. Lynch, told my class that he does charity for ALS. He mentioned he had two teachers who were diagnosed with the disease, one of whom unfortunately passed away. Mr. Lynch’s other teacher, Mr. Christopher Pendergast, has been battling ALS for 21 years, and started a nonprofit organization called ALS Ride for Life in 1997, which he still runs. Mr. Pendergast came to my school with his wife to speak about his charity with our class. Every May, he and his “PALS” (people with ALS) ride in their wheelchairs from Montauk to Manhattan to raise money and awareness for the disease.

On Mr. Pendergast’s second visit, my school was one of the many stops in his ride. As he and his PALS approached us, all the fourth and fifth graders stood outside chanting, cheering, and holding signs to encourage the riders. It was truly an inspiring experience for me.

When I learned I had to do a mitzvah project at my synagogue, Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, as a part of becoming a bar mitzvah, I knew right away that I wanted to help Mr. Pendergast’s cause. When I contacted him, he asked me about my interests, to which I replied that I like sports (especially baseball) and spending time with my friends and family. He brainstormed fundraising ideas with me, and the idea that stuck out was creating a sport memorabilia auction.

I got to work right away, finding athletes’ addresses and emails with the goal of getting them to donate their memorabilia. I sent more than 60 letters to different athletes and even spoke to several of them - like former New York Yankees player Jim Leyritz and former Texas Rangers player Pete Stemkowski - on the phone. After collecting 15 pieces from individual athletes, I started contacting sports teams directly, who in turn sent autographed items from their team players. By the end of the collection process, I had gathered around 30 pieces of signed sports memorabilia to be auctioned.

I also came up with the idea to go around to different local stores and ask if they could donate a gift certificate or store item. These items were to be part of a raffle auction in hopes to excite people into donating money even if they were not interested in sports memorabilia. I managed to collect 60 raffle prizes and made 40 raffle baskets, all of which were bid on and sold. They were a big hit! The most popular item was a signed photo of Cleon Jones catching the last out in the 1969 World Series.

Before the event took place, I said ttold my dad that my goal was to raise at least $5,000. By the end of the event, I'd raised almost $10,000. I was ecstatic.

My mitzvah project of raising money for ALS Ride for Life changed me. It taught me how to speak with people I have never met before, how to get others to believe in me, and how to deal with rejection. When I first came up with this project, I knew that what I was doing was good, and I thought it would be cool to help others. I didn’t think it would make me a better person, or help me gain confidence to walk into a store and ask the manager to advocate for a cause, or talk on the phone with someone who was a key player in the Yankees 1996 World Series Championship and ask him to donate sports memorabilia.

In the beginning, Mr. Pendergast always told me to think big like he does. I thought that meant having big expectations, but by the end, I learned otherwise. It means to be able to see the impact of what you are doing on a large scale.

I never though that I, a normal 13-year-old boy, would be able to make a difference in the greater community. I always saw this one commercial on TV about kids my age speaking to people about changing the world, and it made me think, "Wouldn't it be cool to be such a leader?” I aspired to be like that - and I've realized that "thinking big” means being like these kids, being a leader in my community and eventually in greater society. That is what Mr. Pendergast wanted me to strive for.

I won’t urge every 13-year-old to go out and create a charity auction, but I want everyone, no matter their age, to ask themselves, “What am I passionate about?” and then to take it a step further: “How can I use my passion to help someone else?”

Ian Meyer is a member of Temple Beth-El of Great Neck in New York and of NFTY - The Reform Jewish Youth Movement.

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