Three summers ago, I was on a bus in California having fun with some friends when I received an email from my dad. Its subject: “An interesting opportunity.” Intrigued, I opened the email and read about a new philanthropy program for Jewish teens in the Greater Boston area. As a 16-year-old eager to change the world, I knew I had to participate in the program.
Fast-forward to May 2018 when I was standing on the stage at my third and final grant presentation celebration for the Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston (JTFGB), amazed at the work this program has done since 2015. Each year, we have focused on different issue areas ranging from poverty, youth education, mental health, substance abuse and sexual assault. Over these last three years, we have raised over $145,000, and just as importantly, we have helped create positive societal change.
JTFGB is such an important program to Jewish teens in the Greater Boston area for so many reasons—one of those being the sense of community developed over the course of eight months. Every October, a new group of teens arrives at our kick-off event. Some students know each other; others, like myself the first year, know no one. By the end of the year, however, who you knew and didn’t know in October doesn’t matter. At the grant celebration in May, we are all united not just by the remarkable feats we have accomplished throughout the year, but also by the relationships we have developed. Through our discussions, presentations and debates, consensus builds and friendships are formed. Being the next generation of change-makers and leaders in the world, these relationships are crucial. We are much more powerful together than we are individually.
JTFGB is also so important to teens because of the love for philanthropy it inspires at a young age. When most people think about the concept of philanthropy, it’s not something that is typically associated with people my age, but more the age of my parents and above. Like many other teens in the program, I joined interested in learning more about the nonprofit sector. Throughout my time with JTFGB, my interest has turned into a passion. Philanthropy work has become such an important part of who I am. I am confident that this change is true of so many other teens in the program. By being part of the entire grant-making process from start to finish, students gain a strong understanding of the substantial impact their work can make. I think the work we do lights a fire within all of my fellow teen board members and allows them to think about other ways they can create positive social change.
The leadership skills we gain through this program are unparalleled to anything I could have ever imagined. After my first year in JTFGB, I continued with the program and joined the Leadership Council (LC) so I could help share that newfound passion for philanthropy with the new teen board members. Of course, being an LC member also meant planning for our monthly meetings and leading discussions. Over the years, the most valuable leadership lesson I learned was the importance of pushing the consensus-building process forward instead of holding it back. Although we might not have always made decisions that I loved or initially cared for, I realized that as a leader, giving in isn’t giving up. Sometimes, in order to help our board reach consensus, I had to set my own beliefs aside or, better yet, allow my opinions to slightly change. Being a leader is not always about being the loudest voice in the room.
My three years in JTFGB have changed me in ways that I never imagined the program would. I am so grateful I decided to act on the email from my dad that I received on that bus in California a few summers ago. He was right—it has been such “an interesting opportunity” and beyond. While my time in the program is unfortunately over, I am incredibly thankful to have had this experience, and I cannot wait to see all of the amazing things the other JTFGB teens continue to accomplish in the future.
Applications are currently being accepted for 2018-19 on a rolling basis through the end of the summer. APPLY TODAY!
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