July 26, 2007
Teens tackle tzedakah dollars
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"The bottom line is it's about empowering young people to be a part of the solution in our community. So many times young people are seen as the problem, but this helps people understand that our teens have a lot to offer and that their perspective is really valuable," said Lisa Farber Miller, who runs one of the largest such programs, the Rose Youth Foundation in Denver, which disburses $50,000 a year during seven months of meetings.
Miller says some program alumni have chosen public advocacy work because of their experience at the youth foundation, and for many kids, it's an entry point to Jewish life for kids who are done with bar or bat mitzvah training and may not be interested in youth group or more Hebrew school.
"It is keeping kids connected to the Temple whom we otherwise might have lost," said Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, where MATCH -- Money and Teenagers Creating Hope -- a four-year-old teen foundation, pulled in 47 kids this year. "Some of them use MATCH as a door back into the synagogue and get involved in the youth group or as teachers' aides in our religious school. For other kids, MATCH is their only connection to the Temple, but it is still enough of a connection that they turn to their rabbis to write letters of recommendation for college and even stay in touch once they go away to school."
MATCH entrusts kids with a $250,000 endowment, which spins off about $10,000 in grants a year. The kids are also required to put in $72 of their own to participate in the process, which involves seven Sunday meetings that combine Torah study around Jewish values with hands-on research. The teens and their parents also attended a reception where they met with leading philanthropists.
Involving the family in the process is a common thread among many of these programs.
At Pressman Academy's philanthropy class for seventh-graders, inaugurated last year, a family interview is an integral part of a year-long curriculum.
"School is not just about educating the student, but educating families as well," said Pressman headmaster Rabbi Mitch Malkus. "Children might know that giving is a priority in their family, but I don't know if families actually sit down together and say 'where are we going to give and why are we going to give to these places.'"
Layered on top of an existing tikkun olam curriculum and social action program, the philanthropy class taught the kids about the organizational structures of the Jewish community and the Jewish values behind giving. Philanthropist Marilyn Ziering addressed the class, and the kids did their own research to decide how to allocate $2,000.
The $2,000 came from a bar/bat mitzvah gift fund that parents contributed to so that each student receives a gift from the fund, rather than one from every classmate. In fact, the inevitable focus on money surrounding the celebration -- expensive party, generous cash gifts, attention heaped on one kid -- makes the bar/bat mitzvah year a ripe time to open a discussion on philanthropy.
"For us it's a strategic decision, trying to transform an event that is a traditional kind of life marker into an opportunity to get down to core Jewish values," Malkus said.
"This is the first time most of these kids will have that much money and have to make decisions about how to use that money. We hope to set the foundation of a lifetime of giving."
Getting teens into the habit of giving is the goal of the B'nai Tzedek Teen Philanthropy Program, run by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in Massachusetts. The Grinspoon Foundation has helped 36 communities set up programs where local foundations match a bar or bat mitzvah kid's own contribution to set up an endowment of $500, for which the child is responsible. The program usually includes educational programs and networking, so the kids can become part of a community of givers.
While initially the endowment only spins off about $25 of grant money annually, it keeps the kids involved indefinitely, as opposed to youth foundation models, which end with high school. Many participants, who started their funds more than 10 years ago, when the program began, have been adding to the principal and continue to allocate grants every year.
"I think B'nai Tzedek creates kids who are connected to their communities, kids who are connected to giving and this keeps them on the map Jewishly even after their bar mitzvahs," said Gail Lansky, national director of the B'nai Tzedek program at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
In fact, youth philanthropy in general has been such a successful tool of engagement, it is moving back up the generational ladder: The Jewish Community Foundation in San Diego -- one of the first in the country to have a youth foundation -- has brought the Hillel crowd into the picture. And the Rose Foundation in Denver has constituted sub-boards for community foundations made up of people in their 30s and 40s.
"I'm sure they will be opening our eyes to new and different things," said Miller of the Rose Foundation. "We are hopeful that they will be social change agents, and create the kind of Jewish community they want."
The Harold Grinspoon Foundation is accepting proposals for grants to subsidize the cost of hiring professionals to set up B'nai Tzedek programs, where bar and bat mitzvah kids are responsible for allocating funds from small individual endowments. The Grinspoon Foundation will award $30,000 over three years to up to 10 communities. Proposals are being considered on a rolling basis. For more information go to http://www.hgf.org/teen_philanthropy/ or contact Gail Lansky at (413) 439-1950 or at Gail@hgf.org.
1 | 2