Helping children to have a little fun
By Ilan Preskovsky
There is more to helping those in need than dealing only with their specific problems, and one of the most effective, by far, is by uplifting their spirits. Sharing Seats, a not-for-profit organisation based in New Jersey, not only believes this, but goes about achieving it in a most unique way.
Established in 2009 by Yoni Greenstein, a sales manager for IDT in Newark, New Jersey, Sharing Seats gives underprivileged or seriously ill children and their families the chance to enjoy premier sports, music, or theatre events for free. The way it works is simple: people donate their unused event tickets to Sharing Seats, which then gives them out to children and their families who would like to go to such events, but are struggling with major, life-altering issues like mental or emotional disorders, autism, cancer, or poverty.
It started on a decidedly grass-roots level with Greenstein giving away sports tickets that he received from work to kids with cancer that he encountered as part of his volunteer work. He immediately noticed how this simple act of allowing these children to put aside the harsh realities of their day-to-day existence and enable them to enjoy the pleasure of a sports game with thousands of other fans had a tremendous impact on their morale.
Sharing Seats continued in this vain for much of its first couple of years of existence where Greenstein would do virtually everything himself, including sourcing unused and unwanted tickets and then finding the appropriate children to whom to give them. He would literally spend his free time driving around, collecting, and giving away free event tickets.
Things, however, changed markedly for his NPO in 2012 when Michael Dube, the founder and president of DubeZone, an organisation that runs a network of after-school sports programmes in New York and New Jersey, came on board Sharing Seats as its chief development officer. Dube’s popularity in the area and the extensive network that he built up through DubeZone gave Sharing Seats much-expanded reach, as did the org’s growing connections to up to twenty other organisations, like the Boys and Girls Club, Ohel, and the Inheritance of Hope, that deal specifically with sick or underprivileged children.
Since then, Sharing Seats has only grown and grown. First, Greenstein and Dube enlisted the help of Greenstein’s wife, Nechama, as chief administrative officer and Noah Falkenstein as executive director, as well as some additional help from Michael’s wife, Rachel. Next, Greenstein and Dube created a professional homepage to provide information about Sharing Seats and how to donate, as well as an ever-expanding social media presence that allowed them to reach out to more and more people – both those looking to give away tickets and those requesting tickets.
Sharing Seats has remained a small operation, worked on entirely by this small group of volunteers, but has, since 2009, given away more than half of a million dollars in tickets to children and their families all over America. They may be based in New York, but the org’s reach is nationwide and they have recently just launched a branch in Israel.
Greenstein and Dube both note, however, that considering how it’s all run on their own spare time and with minimal funding, it’s a challenge to find the time and resources to dedicate to running Sharing Seats. Not that you would think so, of course, as it has clearly been a huge success for what is virtually the charitable equivalent of a mom and pop store. Indeed, Greenstein views every major and minor success that they’ve had as “nothing short of a miracle” and, ironically, is worried about growing the organisation faster than they can handle it.
More than just a chesed in and of itself though, Greenstein also sees Sharing Seats as a major opportunity for fulfilling the major mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s name) as this entirely Jewishly run charity serves children of all races, religions, and backgrounds. It also boasts a fairly unique feature for a Jewish charity, in that they actively encourage feedback from those to whom they send the tickets – while, of course, ensuring that they remain entirely anonymous. This enables donors the ability to see where their donations are going, which allows them to form a greater connection to their act of chesed than in your average anonymous charity – turning an already unique chesed organisation into something even more extraordinary.
For more info, visit: www.sharingseats.org