Youth Philanthropy Success in Indianapolis

By Nina Price and David Heilbron

“Because of the time we’ve spent in this great community, we felt it was our responsibility to do what we could to help improve it and give back after all it had given to us over the years.”

This statement comes from Emily Dant, a teen member of the inaugural cohort of the YoPhI (Youth Philanthropy Indy) Teen Board, hosted at the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis (JFGI). JFGI is very fortunate to have been selected as one of the Jewish Teen Funders Network’s Foundation Board Incubator sites, which provided us the tremendous gift of both financial and professional support to launch a teen philanthropy program in Indianapolis and create a meaningful leadership opportunity for teens in a community where formal Jewish learning had previously concluded in 10th grade with a Confirmation ceremony.

As is the case in intermediate sized Jewish communities, the Jewish community of Greater Indianapolis faces the challenge of wanting to provide our youth the plethora of Jewish experiences available to teens in larger communities, but finds it difficult to do so given limited resources. Being a part of JTFN’s Foundation Board Incubator program and launching YoPhI has provided key experiences to our teens, including diverse Jewish peer connections, high-quality learning, and authentic opportunities to make a difference. All of these key ingredients are reflected in the mission statement developed by our inaugural cohort of thirteen teens, which focused on empowering youth in greater Indianapolis by investing in education experiences that promote appreciation of diversity, empathy, and a strong sense of community.

An early piece of the YoPhI Teen Board experience involved teens determining the core values upon which to ground their work throughout the year. One of the values selected by the teens was kehillah (community). For Indianapolis Jewish teens who often encounter peers in their schools who have never met a Jew or hold misconceptions regarding Judaism, being involved with a program like this provides them with an environment where they can fully be themselves.

One of the benefits of being part of a cohort of communities in this program is the ability for teens to recognize the power of connecting with Jews beyond our relatively isolated local Jewish community and encounter peers from diverse Jewish backgrounds. Later this year, the YoPhI Teen Board members will have the opportunity to participate in the first-ever JTFN regional teen gathering in Chicago in which teen boards from Detroit, Chicago, and Indianapolis will gather for a weekend filled with learning, bonding, and rich Jewish experiences. These encounters provide an opportunity for our teens to expand their sense of what Jewish community means and learn about collective impact.

JFGI has collaborated with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI throughout the implementation of our YoPhI Teen Board. The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which is located in Indianapolis, is the only school in the world dedicated solely to the study and teaching of philanthropy. We have been incredibly fortunate to be able to work with the IUPUI faculty to refine our curriculum, have our teens learn with some of the university faculty, and offer our teens a Certificate in Youth Philanthropic Leadership from IUPUI as part of our YoPhI Teen Board program. Not only has this partnership strengthened our program, but it has also enabled the teens to see philanthropy as a legitimate field of study and recognize the broad impact that can be made through philanthropy.

Above and beyond the connection with community and meaningful learning that takes place as part of the YoPhI Teen Board, teens who participate in the program experience an authentic opportunity to make a difference in the world. They saw the impact of education first-hand in a variety of settings and with diverse socioeconomic populations throughout the grant decision making process, especially during site visits to potential grantee organizations. In the end, the teens decided to grant the dollars that they worked hard to fundraise to two local programs, one focused on peer-education related to expanding understandings of what it means to be Jewish and another that provides afterschool tutoring to local students in at-risk populations.

Having recently finished our first year of the YoPhI Teen Board, we congratulate our teens and tell them “yophi,” which means “great job” in Hebrew. We look forward to keeping in touch with our inaugural cohort, to growing our YoPhI teen board in the coming years, and continuing to optimize this program to enrich the lives of the teens in our community and others they touch throughout their lives as thoughtful philanthropists.

Nina Price is the Director of Jewish Education Initiatives and David Heilbron is the Director of Youth Philanthropy & Connection at the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis.

The YoPhI Teen Board is an initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis and is part of the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN) Foundation Board Incubator, an initiative funded by Laura Lauder and the Maimonides Fund. More info at www.jtfn.org