It could have been just a routine reading assignment in his high school English class. But for Joshua Friedland, 17, reading The Scarlet Letter became an inspiration to take action, and to help others. Specifically, he decided to help single moms.
The 1850 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne describes the story of Hester Prynne, an unwed mother ostracized by her Puritan townspeople by being forced to wear a scarlet “A.” She bears a daughter, Pearl, and struggles to rebuild her life, making her perhaps one of the few heroines of classic literature who is a single mom. However, her challenges as a single mother are not really addressed in the book, Joshua noted. It made him curious about single moms in general, and the many struggles they face.
Joshua, who lives in Long Island, New York, was moved by the story, and so he decided he would raise some money for single moms. He did some research online, trying to find a charity that helped single moms. He found Fellowship Housing. Now, most of our moms are not in the same situation as the heroine of the classic novel. Most often, they are divorced, or fleeing an abusive spouse, or are at risk of homelessness because they’ve been abandoned by their children’s father.
Joshua said via email that he looked at a number of charities and liked what Fellowship did to provide practical help and support. “After extensive research I found Fellowship Housing to be a charity that best helps single mothers in need, compared to some others,” he wrote.
Joshua set up a GoFundMe page, and started telling family and friends about it. Soon, he’d raised more than $300, which he donated to Fellowship.
“Frankly, I was surprised and impressed by my son doing this,” his mother Debbie said. She and her husband Jon said that they’ve tried to raise their children to think of others. “We give to a lot of not-for-profits, and volunteer a lot. It’s a big part of what we do as a family. But it’s still gratifying to see your children actually doing what you tried to teach them.”
Joshua credits his parents with teaching him to care for others.
“One of the values that my parents taught me was to always try and make others as happy as you yourself wish to be, and that is what I tried to do with this project. I feel by raising this money the donors and I have improved the lives of many single mothers in need,” he wrote.
Joshua volunteers at a local animal shelter, and is very involved in the youth group at his synagogue, Community Synagogue of Port Washington.
Joshua’s dad, Jon, says that volunteering and activism have been a regular part of the family’s life. They volunteer with the Anti-Defamation League, and regularly work to raise funds or volunteer for good causes. For example, when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, Jon took Joshua to the south shore of Long Island to help people dig out, and to bring them food and water.
Joshua is on the board of his youth group and is also president of an environmentalist club at his school, called the Tree Huggers club.
“It’s sort of remarkable to me,” his mom Debbie added. “I have to be honest, we live on Long Island. It’s a wealthy community. A lot of people have a sense of entitlement. They might not do something like this. We’ve worked hard to teach our children to care about others. It’s nice to see.”