Multi-faceted, Ambitious Jewish Teen Initiative to Launch in Denver and Boulder

Rose Community Foundation (RCF) in Denver, CO announced the launch today of a multi-faceted Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Initiative, supported by a four-year matching grant up to $2,256,015 from the Jim Joseph Foundation. The grant will match the support committed from individual donors and local foundations on a 1:1 basis, led by RCF’s initial grant of $1,065,255 over two years. The collaborative initiative has five key components and is designed both to increase the number and diversity of high school age Jewish teens participating in Jewish education and engagement experiences, and to deepen the quality and diversity of those experiences. The grant was awarded within the framework of the Jim Joseph Foundation’s national-local funder collaborative, a group of funders interested in working together to expand and deepen community-based Jewish teen education and engagement.

The Initiative draws from a variety of best practices, proven models of engagement, and new ideas to offer teens an array of Jewish education and engagement opportunities. RCF will serve as the manager of the initiative, working with multiple local and national organizations to support both existing and new Jewish teen initiatives. The Initiative will support:

1. expansion of Jewish Student Connection’s (JSC) network of Jewish clubs in local high schools, along with the start of new clubs in middle schools;

2. expansion of Moving Tradition’s gender-based monthly discussion groups for Jewish teens – “Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing!” and “Shevet Achim: The Brotherhood.”

3. launch of a new Boulder Jewish Teen Initiative (BJTI) in Boulder modeled after the North Shore Teen Initiative, which facilitates collaboration among Jewish youth groups and synagogues;

4. launch of a pilot experiment, Jewish Teens Make it Happen Fellows, that will provide micro-grants and support to Jewish teens in Greater Denver interested in creating Jewish experiences for their peers; and

5. training and support for the Jewish Youth Professionals Council, a network of all Jewish youth professionals in Greater Denver as they collaborate to manage participation data, increase their skills to mentor adolescents, and seek to reach the under-engaged.

Rose Community Foundation has been deeply involved in the Jim Joseph Foundation’s national-local funder collaborative to share best practices about community-based Jewish teen education and engagement and to launch these types of targeted local initiatives. The collaborative began nearly a year ago, following the release of the Jim Joseph Foundation report, Effective Strategies for Educating and Engaging Jewish Teens. Earlier this year, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston was awarded the first grant as part of the collaborative.

“This initiative is a direct result of a unique collaboration among local funders across the country,” says David Bryfman, chief innovation officer, The Jewish Education Project. “Because of Denver’s current level of teen engagement, it is an interesting place to pilot this initiative. The level of investment and readiness to collaborate in the local community makes this a particularly promising experiment, and there will certainly be lessons learned for other communities.”

The structure of the initiative reflects an understanding of various effective Jewish teen engagement strategies. As one example, the Jewish Teens Make it Happen Fellows will put financial resources directly into the hands of Jewish teen innovators to create their own Jewish experiences to engage their peers and to make a meaningful difference in their community. As another example, the BJTI – spearheaded by Jewish Student Connection, the Boulder JCC and all major synagogues in Boulder – will offer teens the chance to engage in Jewish experiences regardless of denomination or organizational affiliation.

In JSC and Moving Traditions – national education program providers with a presence in Greater Denver – the initiative supports the expansion of innovative, proven models to educate and engage all Jewish teens. JSC currently operates in public high schools and plans to expand into middle schools.

“Our community has an incredible opportunity to come together and change the teen Jewish experience here,” Lisa Farber Miller, senior program officer at Rose Community Foundation, adds. “By increasing the capacity of all organizations involved in this grant, by offering professional support and resources to our Jewish youth professionals, and – critically – by putting teens in the driver seat of their Jewish journeys, we believe we will create more meaningful Jewish learning and engagement opportunities. It is well documented that the teen years are formative years – we need to engage youth at this critical stage and empower them to find their own meaning and connections to Jewish life.”