OFJCC Chai Giving Circle: Friends for Good

Chai Giving Circle Chair Michelle Sandberg (second from L) and friends; photo courtesy.

By Michelle Kracoff

“Guys, I got accepted! Looks like I’m going back to school!” This message from my friend Ashley is an example of the kind of group text messages I wake up to every morning. Because I live on the West Coast, most of my days begin with a sea of messages from a group chat made up of five other women from other parts of the country – women I’ve known since our shared days at Hasten Hebrew Academy in Indianapolis.

In the years since, we’ve traveled and wed, developed diverse professional backgrounds and started families. But no matter how many things have changed since Jewish day school, one thing has remained the same: we turn to each other for guidance, strength, and ultimately, positive change. Over the years, this special bond has allowed us to push each other to new heights and greater achievement, something I was reminded of when asked to facilitate the Oshman Family JCC’s first giving circle.

A giving circle is a unique way for a group of people to come together, pool their charitable resources and decide how and where to donate their combined funds. Participants may be friends from the start or form new connections in the process, and what ultimately matters is how much they can achieve together.

Through the OFJCC’s giving circle, I’ve gotten to know Michelle Sandberg, a community member and preschool alumni parent, who met some of her closest friends through the OFJCC Leslie Family Preschool. Last year, OFJCC CEO Zack Bodner and Sandberg talked about an impactful way to commemorate her friendships and strengthen the community of preschool alumni parents. Together, they decided that Michelle would help build the OFJCC’s first giving circle, giving her close-knit group the opportunity to make a long-term, sustainable impact on the community where they had first met.

“The OFJCC is where I found my community and close circle of friends,” says Sandberg. “Having spent my whole life on the East Coast, it was the special preschool years at the OFJCC when California began to feel like home. It was a beautiful, full circle experience to pilot the first giving circle with these friends a decade later.”

In the fall of 2016, Sandberg and I proudly unveiled the OFJCC’s inaugural Chai Giving Circle, tasked with identifying some of the most pressing needs facing us today. In our formative meetings and with the guidance of Amplifier, a network of giving circles motivated by Jewish values and inspired by changemakers, we elected to put our efforts toward civil rights. We specifically focused on reproductive justice, immigration rights and religious and racial tolerance, and over a period of months, the members educated themselves on these core issues. Ultimately, Chai Giving Circle chose to issue the following grants:

Center for Reproductive Rights: $5,000+

If | When | How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice: $5,000+

Center for Gender and Refugee Studies: $10,000+

Facing History and Ourselves: $10,000+

This was not only a rewarding growth opportunity for the members of the Chai Giving Circle. We also deepened our knowledge of the effective giving in our community, while strengthening our bonds of friendship along the way.

The power of friendship to influence our decisions can inspire our friends to want to change the world. Do you remember my friend Ashley? She went on to get her Master’s of Healthcare Administration and is now working to solve healthcare issues that have become a part of our everyday conversations.

As we plan the second funding cycle of Chai Giving Circle, it feels gratifying to be part of a community where friendships are honored through social action, and the power of our giving can exceed our individual efforts. What’s more, when it’s all over, we’ll have these incredible relationships to reflect on and cherish.

Michelle Kracoff is the Oshman Family JCC’s Director of Major Gifts.