It’s that time special time of the year. A time to be together with family and friends to celebrate, show gratitude and give back in some way. Giving Tuesday, immediately following the Thursday of Thanksgiving and the shopping-filled days of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, was just a few weeks ago.

Your inboxes were probably filled with dozens of organizations’ various types of appeals and solicitations for donations. Your social media feeds were probably one post after another of being able to make a quick “one-click” donation with different online fundraisers. Your mailboxes at home were probably stuffed with brochures and a bit more personalized letters outlining monetary goals or matching gifts for the day. Everywhere you looked, organizations were going out in full force for Giving Tuesday—a day that has become completely centered on where you could donate your dollars or spend your time volunteering with a possibility of millions of nonprofits around the country.

With the overwhelming number of options we have, it can be difficult to be both decisive and confident in figuring out where we should contribute. There are so many worthy causes that really need our support, but realistically we cannot give to every single cause or organization. What I have learned over the past three years that I have been a part of Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston (JTFGB) is that choosing how and where to give should be an educated, strategic and well-thought-out personal choice.  

At the beginning of JTFGB each year, all the teen board members take the time to utilize the collaborative skills we have been taught as we thoughtfully discuss different issue areas that are important to us and come to a consensus on a final one—which is always pretty impressive to see a group of 20ish teens with different opinions eventually agree on one thing. There is so much that goes into our discussions and decision-making process. For example, do we as Jews have an obligation to give solely (or at least principally) to Jews and Jewish organizations, or should we donate to people in need regardless of religion? Do we focus our money on our communities, where we can directly see the impact of our donations, or do we donate on a global scale? Do we want to give to an organization that will use our donations for a program or project, or are we OK with the funds going to direct overhead? These questions are crucial to ask, because by recognizing and answering them, each of us can find out about what is important in our personal approach to philanthropy. This can seem overwhelming but plays a large role as we make our decisions.

Like many other people my age, I am not at a place in my life where I have thousands of dollars to donate; however, what I have learned is that I can donate an equivalent—maybe even more valuable—hands-on resource. What is that? I can dedicate my time and energy to causes about which I care deeply. In some ways, it is even harder to choose where to donate my time, because all of us—teenagers and adults alike, are typically going nonstop and live very busy lives. There are so many causes that are important to different populations in the world and for various reasons. Our society is constantly facing new things that need to be addressed, such as climate change, mental health, domestic violence, substance use disorder, poverty, hunger and the list goes on and on.

For me, an issue I personally feel to be so important is the need to support inclusion and access to education for everyone. This strikes a deep and visceral emotion in me, so that’s where I choose to invest most of my volunteer time. Although I wish I could give time or money to every single cause that significantly stands out to me, I also know that it is nearly impossible, and I focus the majority of it on inclusion. 

Outside of school, JTFGB, sports and my other extra-curricular activities, I have also spent the last two years as a teen volunteer with Gateways. Gateways is an incredible organization that (literally) opens the gates to Jewish education and provides access in so many ways to any type of student with a disability. As a Gateways teen volunteer on Sundays, I am paired with one student for the whole school year. Together we learn about Jewish holidays, Jewish traditions and tzedakah, amongst many other things—and through this learning, we make deep connections and establish a true friendship. I have created a real bond with my student this year—she has even told me how much she misses me during the week, which is a feeling I cannot begin to explain in words. The best part is that the feeling is truly mutual and I look forward to Sunday mornings just as much because Gateways is one of the highlights of my week. My time at Gateways has shown me the importance of my actions and how they can actually drastically change someone’s life in a positive way.  

With both Gateways and JTGFB playing such important roles in my life in different ways over the past three years, imagine how ecstatic I was to learn that these two organizations were going to collaborate for a combined partnership! I knew there had been talks about it for a few months, but seeing it finally come to life at the end of the summer and early fall has been so amazing. I was so honored when I was asked to be the Leadership Council member on this brand-new and unique JTFGB/Gateways partnership board. Being a group of neurodiverse teenagers, we are always thinking of different ways to accommodate each board member’s styles of learning and interaction—as we recognize that everyone is very different both in and out of the classroom. The goal of this board is to really make the great content and curriculum of JTFGB accessible to all types of students of different backgrounds and abilities.

Some of the changes for this new board have been minor while others have been bigger. For example, we only meet for two hours instead of three-and-a-half because we recognize that for some people, a long period of time in a structured environment can lead to inefficiency and unproductivity. We decided it’s more beneficial for everyone to have two energetic and efficient hours instead of three-and-a-half hours of semi-productive and perhaps exhausting work. We also take a lot of breaks. For our group, breaks can be helpful to refocus and increase involvement for everyone. The frequent breaks are beneficial for all of the participants and have clearly improved the quality of our meetings greatly. There is so much thoughtful work that is constantly being put into this new partnership, and I feel so fortunate to be a part of the journey—combining two of my favorite passions and programs—JTFGB and Gateways.  

Giving and doing with intention is incredibly important and empowering. I intentionally choose to invest a lot of time in a community that focuses on inclusion and accessibility. My personal passion for working toward this and channeling my philanthropic energy into it is certainly a priority in my life. And what’s even more amazing is the fact that one of the ways I am able to channel this is through teaching my peers a curriculum about the nonprofit sector, fundraising, leadership, advocacy and giving back within this new collaborative and accessible setting at JTFGB.

So, yes, the overwhelming choices of where or how to donate can often be intimidating (whether it’s on the designated Giving Tuesday or just any other regular day of the year!), but the way to navigate that is by asking yourself, “What is important to you?” Whether it’s one issue or organization or perhaps even 20 different ones, knowing you are making an impact in areas about which you genuinely care is such a special and meaningful feeling and absolutely one of the best parts of philanthropy.

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