One of the great things about my job here at JewishBoston.com is that I get to see all of the great programs and events happening in town. Almost on a daily basis I learn about a new organization that I didn’t know existed. This week it’s the Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston. So, who are they? I asked Ariel Scheer Stein, a program associate for the Jewish Teen Foundation at Gann Academy, to tell me all about it.
So what, exactly, is the Jewish Teen Foundation, and how can it be at two different places?
A collaboration between Gann Academy and Hebrew College, the Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston (JTFGB) is a year-long program for Jewish high-school students from across the metro Boston area. It grew out of an opportunity our two institutions saw to collaborate on bringing a successful national Jewish teen foundation program to Boston. We’re just finishing our first year of the program. Over the course of the year, the teens learn the ins and outs of professional philanthropy and grant-making through a Jewish lens, and allocate grants to effect real change in the causes they care about most. We have two boards in the foundation—one that meets at Hebrew College in Newton and the other that meets at Gann Academy in Waltham. Although each board chooses its own cause and makes grants to different organizations, the teens learn the same content and build the same grant-making skills, and both boards get together a few times throughout the year.
How did the teens do this year?
This year was amazing! The teens on both boards exceeded their fundraising goals and had nearly 30 nonprofit organizations apply for grants. Together the board members raised over $30,000 to award as grants to six nonprofit organizations! The board at Hebrew College selected the following organizations that are working to alleviate poverty:
The board at Gann Academy selected the following organizations that are working to empower youth through education:
Who did they raise the money from, and how did they decide who gets the grants?
Both boards joined together for one of the monthly meetings and had a high-level fundraising training from a development professional, as well as from an active lay leader with lots of fundraising experience. The teen board members developed personal and collective fundraising goals and created action plans for achieving them. Each board member did personal outreach to their community, utilized social media, made presentations at their synagogues and held creative, school-wide fundraisers.
The board members engaged in a thorough process to vet and select the nonprofit organizations who were grant recipients. First they nominated organizations that work toward accomplishing the mission each board selected—alleviating poverty and empowering youth through education—and invited the organizations to apply for funding. Next the board members reviewed each grant application and narrowed down the applicants to semi-finalists. Then the board members visited the semi-finalist organizations to learn even more about the impact their grant money would have. Finally the board members worked together to come to a consensus on the final grant recipients. The teens were involved in making decisions every step of the way! Since they raised all of the funds, the teens really had skin in the game and were invested in where the money would go.
How do teens get involved in this program, and what’s involved in serving on a board?
This fall, JTFGB will again welcome Boston-area teens to the two boards. The groups will meet for three hours once a month through the academic year.
For teens who care about tikkun olam or parents who want to guide teens toward experiences like this, what would you say is the program’s selling point?
This is an experience like no other. The Jewish Teen Foundation offers teens the opportunity to make a profound impact on their community through building and running a grant-making foundation. As they learn about the grant-making process, students will raise the money, determine the issues they would like to support and make donations to the causes they care about. There are not many opportunities for high-school students to be so fully empowered to make decisions and pursue social justice through strategic philanthropy. This one-of-a-kind program offers teens the chance to make a real change in the world, all while making lifelong friends in the process!
Wow! I heard this collaboration grew out of your interest in adapting a national program. Can you tell me more?
The Jewish Teen Funders Network has seeded successful Jewish teen foundations throughout North America. They approached CJP, Gann Academy and Hebrew College about bringing this model to Boston, and together we created our unique collaborative model.
Can we hear from some of the teens themselves?
You bet we can! Check out this video below.