Ethan Endelman found a very productive and charitable way to fill his schedule over the summer.
Ethan Endelman’s summer should have included camp and hanging out with friends. But COVID severely limited his options.
Of course, he wasn’t alone. Students everywhere faced disappointments over canceled plans and social restrictions, but Endelman, a Bloomfield Hills High School freshman, found a very productive and charitable way to fill his schedule.
In June, he started a Detroit chapter of Balance Boxes. This youth-led nonprofit organization provides students in low-income communities with age-appropriate fun and academic activities, nonperishable food items, coupons that can be redeemed for food and free access to one-on-one online tutoring.
“We’re living in really hard times right now, and I thought this was a good opportunity to help other people who aren’t as fortunate as we are,” said Endelman, who enjoys playing baseball and tennis.
Balance Boxes was started in a Chicago suburb by two Jewish teens in March and now has more than 20 chapters in the United States and a similar number of international branches including ones in Israel, the U.K. and India. The Michigan chapter was one of the first outside Chicago.
Endelman, 14, heard about Balance Boxes through his mom, Alyssa Endelman. She is friends with the mother of one of the Chicago co-founders. Early on, Endelman recruited his longtime friend Rebecca Rabin to join him as a co-chapter head. Together, the pair spent the last several months getting volunteers and securing nonperishable food items, books, games, activities and monetary donations.
So far, they’ve held two fundraisers, a cheesecake sale and a fundraiser in conjunction with a local restaurant. Through these events and other contributions, they’ve raised approximately $1,400.
With help from their parents and other teen volunteers, Endelman and Rabin have assembled and delivered around 300 boxes to various groups of Detroit students. Donations were solicited mostly through social media and word of mouth. Ethan’s mom said that because Bookstock wasn’t collecting books this year, many families were looking to donate their gently used children’s books.
“We would like to distribute more donations, but it’s hard logistically because of COVID,” said Alyssa Endelman. “It’s ironic that it’s such a challenge because the need is even greater now.”
The Endelman’s garage at their West Bloomfield home is often filled with bins of donated supplies, all sorted by age group. Before a donation drop-off, teen volunteers gather outside, with masks, to participate in socially distanced packing parties to assemble the boxes. They try to put together each box with a theme, whether it’s something generic like kindergarten fun or something more specific like superheroes or princesses.
“I want to help out in the community, and it feels good to assist people in need, especially now when it’s harder for everyone,” explained Rabin, a freshman at Frankel Jewish Academy, who, before COVID, participated competitively in gymnastics. “I also think it’s cool that this organization is all around the world.”
Neither Endelman’s nor Rabin’s mother is surprised by the effort and commitment of their children.
“Rebecca is a pretty giving individual,” said Amy Rabin, of Bloomfield Hills. “We’d like our kids involved and giving, and I’m very proud of her. She’s put in a lot of hard work and time.”
Balance Boxes is always looking for donations of books, arts and craft supplies, activity sets, non-perishable food items and monetary donations. They are also hoping to secure corporate sponsorship.