Teens Living Philanthropy in the Bunks: B’nai B’rith Camp Teen Philanthropy Program

by Michelle Koplan

Two years ago, I sat around a conference room table discussing with Board and community leaders about ways to integrate philanthropy into our B’nai B’rith Camp (BB Camp) summer overnight camping program. It was clear to us that our teens needed to learn more about the importance of philanthropy, and specifically through a Jewish lens. Although we had the vision, we struggled with the logistics – the how to’s, the implementation, and the marketing to the teens.

This past summer, I’m pleased to share that we were able to make our vision come to fruition with the help of the Jewish Teen Funders Network. It was my honor and privilege to teach and facilitate our first cohort of the B’nai B’rith Camp Teen Philanthropy. BB Camp was one of only 38 camps across the country to have been chosen to participate in the Jewish Teen Funders Network Camp Philanthropy program. This program provided $1000 of grant making seed money and educational programming, which allowed our B’nai B’rith Camp Teen Foundation Board made up of 14 of our 10th grade Leaders-in-Training (LIT) campers the opportunity to engage in a group process of learning about Jewish values related to giving (philanthropy and tzedakah), while examining their own values and funding priorities in order to award grant funds to the local (to Camp) community’s nonprofits.

The B’nai B’rith Camp Teen Foundation Board reviewed and assessed grant proposals from local Lincoln City nonprofit organizations, made site visits to a number of nonprofits, and engaged in a consensus-building process to decide which nonprofits to support with the $1000 of grant making seed money provided by JTFN.

Prior to the site visits and the final decision making process to award funds, the B’nai B’rith Camp Teen Foundation Board participated in 16 hours of workshops learning about philanthropy through a Jewish lens. They created their own mission statement steeped in Jewish values. Their mission statement helped to guide their process of making decisions on how they were going to award the grant funds. The mission they developed read, “The mission of the B’nai B’rith Camp Teen Foundation is to support the Lincoln City community through local nonprofit organizations, which will reflect the Jewish values of charity (tzedakah), community (kehila), and compassion (rachamim).” They furthered the process by making a guiding goal, which stated, “The program will empower the residents of the community to better help themselves carry and support a successful lifestyle, and also strive to bring success and sustainability to the nonprofit organizations.”

On Monday, July 15th, I had the opportunity to take our teens into Lincoln City to do site visits and hear presentations from the following nonprofits: Angels Anonymous, B’nai B’rith Day Camp, Business for Excellence in Youth (The Backpack For Kids program), Family Promise and Lincoln City Cultural Center. The teens were incredibly respectful and asked very thoughtful questions.

Following the site visits and presentations, the B’nai B’rith Camp Teen Foundation Board deliberated and built consensus around which projects to award grants to. They took their job very seriously, and after much thoughtful discussion in the classroom, in the bunks, and in the dining hall around the dinner table, they made the choice to award a grant of $520 to Business for Excellence in Youth (The Backpack For Kids program, which feeds hungry children) and award a grant of $480 to B’nai B’rith Day Camp (scholarships for foster children attending the day camp program, which includes feeding them a nutritious hot lunch and two snacks per day). They expressed a real desire to help Lincoln City’s kids year round, and they felt that these two projects did that the best. It was a fascinating and fair process, without any influence from the camp counselors and staff. The teen Board made their decision solely utilizing the mission statement they created to guide them, along with their learning about tzedakah and philanthropy through a Jewish lens.

As the teens loaded the bus to leave Camp for the summer, one of the teens reflected, “When I came to BB Camp, I was one way, and I’m leaving today totally different. I’m changed.” He further shared that he had felt transformed by the experience and understood philanthropy and tzedakah much better after learning from the program. In fact, on his own blog post, he commented, “the program gave me a great opportunity to be a leader with responsibility and perform a great deed. Fortunate enough to be part of this program, I learned about Jewish values and how lucky I am after recognizing poor areas…” [by Gabe K.- age 15]

On an evaluation form, one of the participants wrote, “To me the site visits were the most personally meaningful aspect of this program. After doing the site visit I felt personally connected to many of them [the nonprofits] and where I feel my tzedakah should go for now and in the future. Deciding where the money should go after the site visits was the most fun, because I enjoyed hearing everyone’s opinions and seeing how passionate everyone felt about the causes.”

I’m incredibly grateful to JTFN for helping BB Camp to fulfill such a beautiful mitzvah of teaching our teens the importance of Jewish philanthropy and how to truly positively impact a community in need. The process was incredibly valuable for both the teens and me. The JTFN Teen Philanthropy program has impacted and inspired me to ensure we continue to fundraise and further develop the program to be an integral part of our LIT’s curriculum for many years to come.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in contributing to this very meaningful program, please feel free to contact Michelle Koplan, Executive Director, B’nai B’rith Camp, at 503-452-3444 or mkoplan@bbcamp.org.

Michelle Koplan, the Executive Director of B’nai B’rith Camp, has been directing BB Camp for 15 years. Prior to her work with Camp, she served as a JCC Youth & Teen Professional and a BBYO Professional for a number of years. She believes teaching middot (Jewish values) to children in experiential ways is the key to building strong Jewish identity, and she lives by the mantra “Ani V’eata Neshene Et Ha’Olam” – You and I will change this world, together.