The Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston (JTFGB), a Hebrew College program that teaches local high school students about philanthropy, civic leadership, and grant-making, awarded $75,000 in grant funding—the most students in the program have ever raised—on Wednesday, June 2, to 12 organizations chosen by teen leaders that focus on criminal justice, domestic abuse, education inequity, and pediatric cancer.
“I am bursting with pride over everything our teens have come together to accomplish this last year,” Leah Goldstein, director of JTFGB at Hebrew College, said during a grant presentation ceremony on Zoom. “They have far exceeded their goals, and my own expectations, to be honest, and I am so excited for all of you to hear a bit more about it now.”
JTFGB, which launched in 2015, asks students to choose a philanthropic mission, raise money for that effort, and partner with nonprofits—both Jewish and non-Jewish—to make a difference. Students learn how to build consensus, request and review grant proposals, and solicit donations. And throughout the process, teens are introduced to Jewish texts and ideas, including values of compassion, community, and tikkun olam (repairing the world), as well as to peers who have backgrounds and experiences that are different from their own.
“My participation in JTFGB has taught me about philanthropy, how to infuse it into my life on a daily basis, and become a leader in my own community,” JTFGB participant and Leadership Council member Netanya Simon, a senior at Gann Academy in Waltham, said at the grant ceremony. “JTFGB has taught me the importance of making room for philanthropy and furthermore the power of incorporating gemilut chasadim, or acts of loving kindness, in our busy lives.”
Each year, the teens divide into several boards and work together to pick an issue area, debating whether it will be local, national, or global. Then they look for non-profits that connect to that issue area, do site visits to or virtually with organizations, and debate the merits of various grant recipients. After a specific fundraising kick-off event in January, they begin sending tailored solicitation emails and making pitches on the phone. The teens raise thousands of dollars each before choosing organizations to receive their grants and announcing their gifts.
JTFGB launched in 2015 as a Foundation Board Incubator program with the Jewish Teen Funders Network (now Honeycomb), which works with educators and professionals around the country to create, connect, and support Jewish teen philanthropy programs as forms of experiential education for Jewish teens. As an incubator, the program received four years of funding from Laura Lauder and The Maimonides Fund. The program is now doing its own fundraising as a self-sustaining Hebrew College program.
Since the program launched six years ago, students have raised more than $344,000 and allocated a total of 50 grants for organizations around the globe that help fight sexual assault, mental health, and substance abuse, amongst other issues. This year, JTFGB had 53 participants on four boards who came from 22 towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, attend 25 schools, and belong to 20 synagogues.
This year, each board met 12 times on Zoom. The teens completed 28 site visits, contacted more than 600 donors, and raised an unprecedented amount of money. One group of students chose to support two organizations devoted to criminal justice, Aid to Inmate Mothers and The First 72+; another group is supporting three nonprofits that support victims of domestic abuse, JF&CS (Journey to Safety), NA’AMAT (The Abba Program), and The Second Step; a third is supporting three organizations that seek education equality, Coaching4Change, Community Preparatory School, and the Decode Project; and a fourth is giving to three organizations that support pediatric cancer, B+ Foundation, National Pediatric Cancer Foundation (NPCF), and One Mission.
“On behalf of the pediatric cancer patients we fight for every day, and also on behalf of the entire staff of the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, thank you to Leah, Hannah and all of the participants of the JTFGB for your generosity and hard work,” Shamus Warren, director of development at the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation wrote in the Zoom chat during the grant ceremony. “YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE!!! ”
“I’m so happy our daughter chose to join this program,” added parent Stephanie Marlin-Curiel. “What an amazing education and opportunity to make a difference. The opportunity to see organizations in action at site visits is invaluable! Not to mention having the boards create their own missions. Thank you to the teachers, organizers and teen participants for committing their time and attention to tikkun olam! ”
JTFGB is one several Hebrew College teen learning programs, each of which offers different opportunities for teens to connect and engage in Jewish and interfaith learning. Other opportunities include Prozdor Teen Open Circles, Teen Hebrew Institute, Teen Beit Midrash, the Hebrew College Dignity Project, COVID Youth Commission, the COVID-19 Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors Program, and Gesher Israel Seminar: A Boston-Haifa Partnership.
“JTFGB offers teens a wonderful opportunity to look beyond themselves and to make a difference in people’s lives right now,” said Dr. Susie Tanchel, vice president of community education at Hebrew College. “This program gives teens a sense of purpose and meaning at a critical time in their lives. Moreover, this program trains them on how to make this impact in an effective way. These skills will continue to serve the participants long after the program has ended as they endeavor to continue to improve our world in new communities.”
Goldstein said she wasn’t sure at first how the program would run on Zoom, and that the teens’ accomplishments were “nothing short of amazing.”
“Like everyone else at Hebrew College, our JTFGB teens have been so resilient, built a strong community, learned to work together in a new and unfamiliar setting, showed their passion for endless social justice issues, explored their Jewish values, and have no fear of going out to make a change where change needs to be made.”
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