At the end of the school day, many teens head off to soccer practice, a piano lesson, maybe a babysitting gig. But for the past eight months, 27 Jewish teens have been learning how a nonprofit organization operates, and raised more than $53,000 as part of the Teen Philanthropic Leadership Council (TPLC).Larisa Boas of Met Council addressing and thanking the Teen Philanthropic Leadership Council.
On May 30th, the teens held a grant distribution ceremony for the organizations they’d selected.
The TPLC is a new program from UJA-Federation of New York’s Center for Youth Philanthropy and Leadership, and it aims to teach young people about philanthropy through a Jewish lens. Over the course of the school year, the teens explored what causes were the most important to them, researched the most pressing needs in the community, reviewed proposals from organizations in UJA-Federation’s network of agencies, and raised desperately-needed funding.
“This type of work is usually done by people a lot older than us, but I think our group as a whole accomplished so much, we even surprised ourselves,” said Danny Schwartz, a 12th grade member of the council. While he expressed that the program has had a great impact on him personally, Schwartz added, “The real impact is knowing we made a difference in people’s lives.”
The program not only helped the teens learn how nonprofits operate, but it strengthened their sense of pride in their Jewish identity. “After my bat mitzvah, despite being active in some activities, I had a hard time finding something that made me feel connected Jewishly, in a more meaningful way,” said Lucy Price, a 10th grade member of the council. “TPLC is about more than just giving money; it’s about being guided by Jewish values.”Barbara Salmanson of American Friends of Orr Shalom posing with members of the TPLC, from left to right: Ellie Bleiberg, Matthew Stadler, and Jessica Heller.
This year, the teens focused their grants on helping vulnerable Jewish populations around the world. Steven Schwager, CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), an organization selected by TPLC, thanked the TPLC members on behalf of India’s small Jewish community, which will be benefitting from one of their grants.
“I thank the teen leadership program here for raising the money to help [the 5,000 Jews of India], Schwager said. These are “people who for the most part they will probably never meet, never see, but [they can] know that they will make a difference.”
Overall, the teens ended up designating six grants to five organizations. The organizations included Yemin Orde, an Israeli home for at-risk youth; JDC for its work with Jews in India and the former Soviet Union; the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty for its kosher soup kitchen network, Masbia; Orr Shalom for its work rescuing Israeli children from physical and emotional abuse and neglect; and Bet Elazraki Children’s Home to expand its therapy program for children.
A Passion for Making a Difference
In a video about the program that was screened during the ceremony, Dr. Reuben Romirowsky, UJA-Federation’s vice president of affinity, and Sheila Devore, director of the Center for Youth Philanthropy and Leadership, spoke about the importance of these teens, and those who will come after them, to the future of the Jewish community.Steven Schwager of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee with TPLC participants, from left to right: Katie Bleiberg, Jake Levene, and Lucy Price.
Romirowsky focused on the untapped potential of the teens’ perspective, energy, and creativity. “The moment we begin to look at teenagers as critical thinkers who can really get excited and have passion for making a difference in the world, we have something very special,” he said.
“They’re learning how we do it here at UJA-Federation and they’re learning how we take care of our community,” said Devore. “These teens are not just the leaders of tomorrow; these teens are today’s leaders