Lasting Enthusiasm: Perspectives from New and Veteran Jewish Teen Philanthropy Educators

JTFN Summit 2014; courtesy
JTFN Summit 2014; courtesy

At the start of summer, more than 90 Jewish professionals came together at the Jewish Teen Philanthropy Summit, organized by the Jewish Teen Funders Network, for two days of workshops, networking, collaboration and Jewish learning. Participants included both seasoned leaders of Jewish teen philanthropy programs, and Jewish educators new to this field and starting teen foundations in the fall.

Veteran Perspective: Josie Ballin

After 12 successful years operating a teen philanthropy program, Memphis B’nai Tzedek is considered a ‘veteran’ community in the field. We are very proud of our program’s success and continually look for ways it can be an even more enriching experience for our teens. The Jewish Teen Funders Network has provided me with many ideas and programmatic resources over the years, but the recent Jewish Teen Philanthropy Summit this June in New York City allowed me to interact with my colleagues on a level I had never experienced before. The Summit had staff from communities running teen philanthropy programs at every stage of development, and I gained something valuable from each conversation.

Mention “teen” and “philanthropy” in the same sentence and people often give me a strange look. “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” they often say. For the first time in my career, I was in a room with like-minded individuals who see the passion for tzedakah and tikkun olam as I do – through the eyes of teens.

At the Summit, I was inspired by both the energy and enthusiasm of the communities launching new programs, and by innovative techniques used by more mature communities to reinvigorate existing programs. I was enthused by the variety of creative programming surrounding grantmaking to keep teens engaged with their Jewish community. An unexpected surprise came when introductions were made and I realized that I knew one of the program leaders at my table back when she was a teen actively involved in our Memphis Jewish community!

This year, I will implement several innovative ideas I learned at the JTFN Summit. I look forward to introducing a new six-month educational curriculum to our teen foundation and to enriching the experience of grantmaking for the teens with individual funds through enhanced programming. I look forward to recruiting new teens to Memphis B’nai Tzedek. I now have a large network of colleagues with whom I can consult on all of these plans, and much, much more! I have brought the energy and enthusiasm from the Summit back to Memphis.

What is the most important lesson I learned at the Summit? That I am much more than a program director, I am a Jewish educator. And I am ready to take on that role!

New Perspective: Jessica Downey

As a Jewish educator, I am constantly faced with the challenge of developing programs that engage students and allow them to grow and find their place within the Jewish community. When a fellow educator first introduced me to the idea of Jewish teen philanthropy, I was apprehensive. I did not consider myself a philanthropist, and I am no expert on grantmaking. How would I lead our teens to the world of philanthropy in the context of Jewish learning? Was that even possible? Who would I turn to if I needed support?

Still hesitant, I made arrangements to attend the Jewish Teen Philanthropy Summit. After the opening speaker, I felt like I needed eight more pairs of eyes and ears to have time to pour over all the resources and listen in on every discussion!

The energy at the Summit was palpable – educators offering each other support, sharing documents, PowerPoint slides, and resources. As the conference went on, session leaders became session attendees themselves, and the overall eagerness to learn permeated throughout the building.

After the Summit, not only did I leave feeling energized, but I gained a strong knowledge base on how to engage students in hands-on philanthropy while learning the Jewish values of tzedek and tikkun olam. At University Synagogue in Los Angeles, we are preparing to launch a teen philanthropy program this fall for our ninth graders. Although I still have a lot to learn, I feel connected to the network of support that has been offered to me through JTFN, which will be invaluable as our synagogue embarks on this new, meaningful initiative.

Josie Ballin is the Director of Marketing, Programming, and Teen Philanthropy for the Jewish Foundation of Memphis, where she has worked for the past eight years. Jessica Downey is the Director of Jewish Education for University Synagogue, which will be launching its teen foundation in September. Both programs are part of the Jewish Teen Funders Network, which connects and support the educators for the 133 Jewish teen philanthropy programs across North America.

cross-posted at JTFN News