Vee are the People: Meet Sagi Braitner
Matan Buganim
December 9, 2020

Sagi Braitner is known for his work in television and the media. Still, his most powerful moments came when he went media-free and volunteered.

Though Braitner wears many hats - singer, actor, beatbox artist - his self-esteem message is consistent.

Read this inspiring interview to learn how making a difference in the lives of at-risk youth can make a huge difference in your own life.

What was your first volunteer experiences?

"My first volunteering was through school. As a sophomore, I volunteered with dogs. We had a special dog training class with therapy dogs, and we met kids with autism and played with them. Even as a kid, it affected me - the desire to do good, how much I learned from it, and how good it felt.

My second significant volunteering was in the army. I went out to volunteer once a week at Agam School in Raanana, an institution for moderate to severe mental retardation. There I met youth with diapers, nonverbal, it was super interesting to volunteer there. Many of the soldiers who came with me left quickly, but this volunteering was also very meaningful for me.

Two years ago, I started volunteering at ELEM -  the largest association for at-risk youth in Israel. I volunteered there for a year and a half in the Streetcar Project. One of the significant things I went through in my life, it changed me from end to end."

What brought you to ELEM?

"I grew up socially rejected to the age of 16. I was boycotted and bullied a lot, which affected me all my life. When I started posting videos and getting famous, I wanted to impact because I knew I had a stage. The youth wanted to see me.

After one of my lectures on self-confidence, a very neglected child came to me and shared suicidal thoughts. I usually know how to handle things like that. I tried to do the best I could but didn't know how to react. Later, in the car, I burst into tears. I called my friend's mom, a psychologist, and told her that I didn't know how to deal and I am going to talk to a lot of teenagers. She told me about ELEM association of at-risk youth. She said: "maybe if you volunteer there, you will be able to get more tools and feel you are helping." And the next morning, I emailed them."

How was it like, volunteering with kids who saw you on television?

"The first time I got there was not easy, first of all, youth at risk, "oh this is Sagi Beatbox, he came to do an item, next week he will be gone." I got there as a teen star who hosted in the National Kids Channel, starred at the Festigal and Survivor, with 200K followers on social media. As someone super known in this youth field, and sometimes it was hard, they got excited and just wanted to take pictures. I told them although I have my job, I am Guy Breitner when I come here. I am like any regular volunteer, and I do not want to be treated differently. I'm really here as a person and not as another character. We worked hard on it together with ELEM's coordinator. Only after two or three months, they started to open up. There were more personal conversations, and then there was a tremendous change. Suddenly, they protected me from new teenagers that called me "Sagi Beatbox." They would have said, "no, he is Guy Breitner here, he is ours, he is normal. No photos, please. If you want to talk - talk to him." They were cute, and I bonded with them like crazy, took a while, but ended up being stunning."

Do you still volunteer?

"I finished my volunteering with ELEM a year ago because I flew abroad for 4 months. Today I am doing lectures that are paid for, not by the youth themselves but by schools, as enriching content. I feel like I am doing something meaningful, talking to youth about self-confidence. In terms of volunteering, I would like to return to some sort of volunteer routine. I wish I had an app that could connect me more easily and quickly to the places I would like to volunteer."

Nice, you know one?

"Mmm, let me think."

How hard is it to be a volunteer?

"Some people want to feel good about themselves or give back to a community, so they donate money - that is appreciated, but it's a simple way. The really significant volunteering is giving your time.

But when you give time, you give up other things. Volunteering every Wednesday from 8pm to 2pm means I gave up many events, like birthdays and paid work.

I am not talking about difficulties in ELEM or in the volunteering activity itself. Each volunteering is different.

But volunteering is a real relinquishment of some of the things in your life.

When you have a lot of free time or are between jobs, it's comfortable if you're bored to volunteer for a month or two. Then you get a job, or your schedule becomes tight, and you might think - I don't have available time, why should I go to volunteer? It doesn't even bring me money.

It becomes not simple at all. Even though I was filming at 7am on Thursday morning, I had to stay up with the kids until the middle of the night."

What do you like best about volunteering?

"The best thing about volunteering is that you can do bad things without hurting your karma. I'm just kidding. But for real, I thought I was doing something right and felt like a good person, so I allowed myself to be blunt elsewhere. It was positive. I stopped pleasing people. I became more honest."

What did you learn about yourself as a volunteer?

"What I gained from ELEM I didn't get anywhere else.

I know it's kitschy, but I feel like I got more than I gave.

I learned how to listen, be non-judgmental, approach teens, talk about problems, and embrace someone in need. These are things I learned the craziest way in the world. I feel like I will be a better partner and a better dad."

What motivates you to volunteer every time?

"I don't believe in unilateral volunteering. In volunteering, you must learn, develop, and love it for real. You mustn't go into this volunteering because you want to be a better person or because you committed.

Volunteering should give you back.

If you do not love it, then you will do it without passion, and it will feel like it.

My motivation to go every time is because that gave me a lot. From the first two months I volunteered at ELEM, I had a conversation with a friend, and the way I listened to her felt different. I was able to really listen. After hours in front of teenagers, just listening to them - because they have no one to talk to - without trying to give an answer or my side of the story. Suddenly I started finding myself just listening and just asking questions and only containing. I saw it with friends and spouses, and I felt I was getting better as a person.

Volunteering changed me for real, and no matter how many concessions and how hard it gets, it's a crazy process I did with myself that I would never give up."

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