By Sara Allen
Four years ago, Effective Strategies for Educating and Engaging Jewish Teens was released, a report that brought to the fore promising models and practical ways for communities to engage teens in Jewish experiences that enrich their lives and help them grow. On the heels of the report, national and local funders representing ten communities took action, coming together to study the findings, commission additional groundbreaking reports, and to design responsive local teen engagement initiatives. Ultimately, the group evolved into a robust community: the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative.
The Funder Collaborative is an innovative philanthropic experiment – a network of funders working together to develop, fund, support and grow new teen initiatives that draw on the collective strength of local organizations. Co-funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the community-based initiatives are multi-faceted approaches designed to reverse the trend of teens opting out of Jewish life in their high school years. Members have become valuable peer resources, each of whom are at different points in their initiative process.
Concurrent to the community-based education and engagement initiatives, the Funder Collaborative embarked on a process of enhanced research into teen Jewish engagement, learning and education. Outcomes for experiential and immersive Jewish education, as well as other research, informs our view of programming toward the whole teen. With a commitment to openness and transparency, the Funder Collaborative shares its hard-won lessons with others to increase knowledge and tools which may advance the entire field of Jewish teen education and engagement.
Today marks the launch of a new website designed to become a vital resource for anyone seeking to benefit from these lessons, models and research: teenfundercollaborative.com. Here we will share highlights of the work in each of our communities, as well as the deep research and rigorous evaluation that helps shape our efforts. We will also house detailed model documentation on specific initiatives exploring the structures, partnerships, risks, and more that have led to successes and “fail forward” moments for learning.
Learnings from the Funder Collaborative
While we are excited to share these resources, we also recognize we don’t hold all the answers to the challenging and complex issues surrounding meaningful Jewish teen engagement. Yet together – as we learn from and build on the knowledge of those who been active in this space before us – we are charting a positive course forward, helping to amplify and expand upon the important work of others.
We hope, too, to make some new discoveries which contribute to the field. Already we are poised to share the early results of interventions and other evidence-based understandings of:
- the urgent need to address the whole teen, recognizing that teens often do not delineate between one’s Jewish and “secular” identity;
- the paradigm of relationship-based engagement that places the teen at the center where we contribute and respond to them, not vice versa;
- the critical role of developing the talented professionals and adult volunteers who engage teens and who advocate for supporting teens’ increased involvement in Jewish life and learning;
- local communities’ role in weaving and publicizing a tapestry of meaningful opportunities for teens;
- and the desire of teens to feel empowered to create experiences for themselves for their peers, and to grow through leadership and skill development.
Two new publications from Rosov Consulting also released today highlight key learnings and encouraging results from this new form of collaboration.
1.) INITIAL OUTCOMES ACROSS COMMUNITIES: First Fruits from the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative
The Funder Collaborative invests heavily in evaluation: each local initiative engages independent consultants and, importantly, a Cross-Community Evaluation enables us to analyze outcomes across communities and identify the most promising practices. The insights we glean can have wide-ranging implications for any community engaged in this work.
The CCE presents an honest and rich picture of early learnings of four of the initiatives, as well as the challenges of attempting to evaluate varied approaches, programs, partnerships and staffing structures. Results show we are beginning to “move the needle” in important ways.
Many communities attribute early programmatic successes to their participation in the collaborative and its steadfast commitment to knowledge-sharing. The evolution of the collaborative itself is central to creating an environment that fosters risk-taking, experimentation and ongoing reflection.
2) PREPARING TO DEEPEN ACTION: A Funder Collaborative Finds Its Way is the second installment in a series of case studies documenting the collaborative (the first released in 2015) and the result of 15 months of observations and interviews. It offers an informative and pragmatic examination for any organization considering the merits and challenges of such large-scale collaboration.
“Being part of something bigger than our community, to have the national support, intelligence and research and show that we are trying to change the conversation has helped me to justify and validate what we are doing.” – Local Funder
The Collaborative has evolved into a healthy mix of local and national funders and implementers who continue to come together to discuss, dissect and address shared areas of interest. In fact, this model of creating space for a Community of Practice across communities is echoed within many of the local initiatives, which themselves seed and nurture a thriving ecosystem of educators and youth-serving professionals to strengthen and sustain their models.
The Future of the Funder Collaborative
Now, around the country teens are benefiting from new and diverse models of meaningful learning and engagement that address the ‘whole teen’; communities employ better prepared and more well-trained and connected youth professionals; and there is a rising sense that teens themselves hold a special place on our communal agenda.
We invite you to be a part of this growth; to explore what we share; and to question, learn and experiment with us. Please be in touch ([email protected]) with your thoughts and feedback, and visit teenfundercollaborative.com to sign up for our quarterly newsletter.
Sara Allen is Director of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative.