At 13, Aaron Arkin, a seventh-grader is already making the world a better place.
In preparation to become a Bar Mitzvah at on Jan. 28, Arkin has cultivated a passion for environmentalism, raising nearly $1,000 for the Plant a Billion Foundation – an organization that plants trees in the Atlantic Rainforest.
“I think that oxygen found in the forest is definitely something we need to live and since they are chopping down millions and millions of trees, I thought it was important to help plant a billion more," he said.
The Nature Conservancy started the "Plant a Billion" campaign in 2008 to help save the Atlantic Rainforest; one of the biggest and most endangered tropical rainforests in the world. Through donations and efforts on the ground, Plant a Billion is hoping to restoring 1 million acres of land by planting 1 billion trees by 2015.
The Plant a Billion Foundation has already planted 9,992,643 trees. The cost of planting a tree is just a dollar meaning that if Aaron reaches his goal, 1,500 trees will be planted.
“Tropical rainforests are the lungs of the Earth, storing enormous amounts of oxygen in a never-ending cycle of life,” according to the Nature Conservancy, which also notes the Atlantic Rainforest is now only 12 percent of its original size, and only 7 percent is well conserved.
Representatives from Temple Sholom explained that as part of becoming a Bar or Bat mitzvah (one who is responsible for the commandments of Judaism), students at Temple Sholom are required to “create a mitzvah project to show that they realize their personal responsibility to make the world a better place.”
Arkin developed a passion for the environment by going to summer camps in New Hampshire. It was there that Aaron learned about Plant a Billion from a close friend who had also raised money for the organization and Aaron realized how he could intertwine his love for nature with becoming a Bar Mitzvah.
“It is so much different there [in New Hampshire] than it is here," he said. "There is so much vegetation — the environment seems so much more natural and free. ... In (other) places, there is a lot of smog and pollution in the air and you can never find a tree. I think that it is extremely important to at least be able to see a tree; it symbolizes growth and a new start.”
To raise the money, Arkin and his dad created a website where people could donate online. He's already raised $1,000 and is well on his way to reaching his goal of $1,500 in donations. Arkin also put up fliers around town and at school, emailed friends and family, and used his Facebook page as well as website to help spread the word.
In fifth and sixth grade, Arkin participated in the Terrill Middle School Science Olympiad club: a select group of 15 students who compete in school versus school science competitions. As a seventh grader, Arkin can no longer compete. Instead, he is mentoring the fifth and sixth grade Olympiads. He described the ways in which he tries to encourage his friends and class mates to be more “eco-friendly.”
“As part of my Mitzvah project, my friends, family, and classmates have signed a pledge to be more eco-friendly. A lot of kids in my grade have iPhones and laptops, but they don’t know that if you leave them on overnight, it’s still taking in and using energy, which can hurt the environment. I also tell them to make sure they don’t leave lights on or the water running,” he said.
Arkin explained that although he will become a Bar Mitzvah on Jan. 28, he will continue to collect donations for Plant a Billion, turning in the donations once a month no matter how small the contribution. Arkin, who also enjoys spending lots of time with friends, will also continue to do community service through Temple Sholom and work in the Plainfield community gardens built by the local charity, Homefirst.
Aaron’s mother, Gail Arkin explained that for Aaron, becoming a Bar Mitzvah is not just about throwing a big party with friends and family.
“Aaron has been looking forward to his Bar Mitzvah for a long time. He is so passionate about this cause," she said. "Raising money for Plant a Billion is just as exciting and important to Aaron as every other part of becoming a Mitzvah."