It’s Not Easy Being a Teen but Jewish Women’s Foundation of San Diego Helps with 4 Cs

by Sharyn Goodson

For many of us, memories of our early teen years are filled with awkwardness, moodiness and insecurity. Few will attest that adolescence is any easier today, especially for young women. In addition to highly rigorous academics, over-scheduled days, and media pressure to look and act certain ways, mean girl bullying has become even more rampant when amplified through emailing, texting and social media. Since teenage girls often turn inward to deal with their stressors, their voices are often silenced in our community. Determined to bring their needs to the forefront, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of San Diego recently developed a multi-pronged approach to create positive change. We knew that funds alone would not bring about the transformative impact our community was seeking – instead we used all the tools at our disposal.

With three Cs, the Jewish Women’s Foundation (JWF) positively creates positive change, impacting the lives of over 200 teen girls each year with programs that instill healthy self-esteem, peer relations, and leadership skills.

Convening + Collaboration + Coaching → Change

Convening: Learning from the community

  • Every few years, the JWF convenes Jewish leaders to share pressing issues facing San Diego’s Jewish women and girls. Past conversations shed light on community support needed for single parents as well as victims of domestic violence, to which the JWF responded with grant-funded programs in these areas.
  • In 2009, discussions revealed that, overwhelmingly, teen girls needed support to build self-esteem, improve peer relations and engage in leadership development. JWF then brought in field experts for individual teen interviews and focus groups as well as meetings with those working with teens.
  • The result was a comprehensive, three-year initiative awarding a total of $245,000 to five Jewish community programs.

Collaboration: Five programs with a common objectives and different approaches

  • All projects draw on Jewish traditions and values providing a trusting atmosphere in which teens can feel comfortable being themselves and spending time with other girls and adults they respect.
  • Program meetings complement teens’ busy schedules and serve girls across denominations (including a large number of unaffiliated), socio-economic backgrounds, and geographic areas.
  • Two programs involve authentic congregation partnerships, one across denominations, involving synagogues from the reform and conservative movements and a Chabad.
  • Grantees work together in program recruitment and provide joint activities.

Coaching: Learn from staff and each other

  • Foundation staff supports grantees in telling their stories, resolving programmatic challenges, and in offering exposure to field thought leaders.
  • With support from the Foundation, grantees have created a peer network, helping each other with joint activities, progress evaluation, fundraising, and in advocating for the needs of teen girls. Since grantees are at varying stages of organizational development, this peer mentoring has proven critical.

Change: Teens and programs grow

  • Teens report that, by participating in activities, they feel better about themselves and supported by each other and programs adults.
  • Participants indicate that they have grown as leaders and have learned new ways to contribute to their communities.
  • Grantee program staff attest that the initiative has made their work more productive and meaningful, appreciating the opportunity to learn and grow in community.

For other funders and communities looking to create sustainable change in a particular area, using the three Cs can be a powerful way to instill learning, inspiration and durability into your work.

Sharyn Goodson is Senior Program Officer of the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego which manages the Jewish Women’s Foundation.