Teen Philanthropy Information

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In August 2008, the Tallahassee Jewish Federation (TJF) launched a new Teen Philanthropy Initiative intended to bring together Jewish teens in the Capital Region.   A special TJF Steering Committee, comprised of Arthur Stern, Susan Turner, Wendi Adelson, Meredith Mercer, and David Markell, developed and oversaw the Initiative.  Several parents of participating teens helped as well.  The TJF very much appreciates the generosity of the Rintels Foundation, which made a substantial contribution to help underwrite this important Initiative at the beginning, and has continued to provide essential financial support for the 2nd and 3rd years (and the current 4th year) of the Initiative as well.

A Summary of the Initiative’s Goals and Results

The TJF hoped that its Teen Initiative, like many similar Federation programs emerging around the country to strengthen teen identification with their Jewish heritage, would empower participating teens to:

  • Run their own foundation
  • Use Jewish values to respond to community needs in Tallahassee and beyond
  • Earn community service hours
  • Develop decision-making and other skills that will last a lifetime

We also hoped that the Teen Board would help Federation accomplish its mission of identifying and helping to meet important social needs, both locally and in Israel.

As we explain below, the Teen Board has worked out even better than we had hoped.  We have attracted a significant number of teens (many more than we expected), and they have done a terrific job of identifying and supporting important social service organizations.

An Overview of the Initiative

1.   Teen Board Applicants, Board Member Contributions, and Federation’s “Match”

Federation encouraged eligible teens (9th-12 grades) from throughout the entire Jewish community to participate by reaching out to the leaders of local congregations (Temple Israel, Shomrei Torah, and Chabad) and by identifying non-affiliated teens who might be interested.   We have been delighted that a total of 18 teens, from throughout the Jewish community, have applied to serve as Teen Board Members for each of the first three years of the Initiative.   Teens attending five local high schools, Rickards, Leon, Lincoln, Chiles, and Maclay, have participated in the program, with different teens attending different synagogues.   So one of our goals, to bring together Jewish teens from throughout the community, has worked out very well.

In addition to completing an application to participate in the program, in which each teen provided basic information about why the teen wanted to participate and some summary information about the teen’s background (grade, school attended, religious affiliation, etc.), each teen (and/or his/her family) contributed $100 towards the Teen Initiative (a subsidy was offered to anyone needing it).   Each year the Rintels Foundation made a generous grant to help with the Federation match.  Thanks to the Teen Board member contributions and the support from the Rintels Foundation, our first three Teen Boards had a total of $27,500 available to distribute ($8,500 the first year, $9,500 the 2nd year, and $10,000 the third year). The Teens were able to increase the number of organizations they invited to apply for funding each year because of the increase in funding available.

2.   Introductory Sessions

During each of the first three years, we organized an introductory session so that the Teen Board members could get to know each other.  We also discussed the importance of giving as a Jewish value, and the “art of grant making.”  We shared with the Teen Board members materials that would help them learn about grant making, notably a Grantmaking Primer, and a set of “Grant Review Criteria.”

3.    Invitations to Social Service Groups to Apply for Funding

TJF invited several local and Israeli organizations that help to meet community needs to apply for funding.   TJF asked each group to identify one or more specific projects that would help to meet important community needs, to explain how the money would be used to support the project, and to explain how the group would monitor the effectiveness of any grant the Board provided.   The TJF asked each group to apply for a maximum grant of $2,500.

For the first year, the Teen Board considered the applications from five organizations:

1.   The Big Bend Homeless Coalition (BBHC): The BBHC operates 2 housing programs in Leon County and provides various other services.   The BBHC asked for support for “client assistance funding.”  In 2007 there were at least 930 children and adults who were homeless in Leon County alone (554 adults and 376 children).  The client assistance project provides emergency financial assistance to prevent homelessness and to address the immediate health and safety needs of homeless and low income individuals and families (it provides help with security deposits, the cost of medication, etc.)

2.   Literacy Volunteers of Leon County: The Literacy Volunteers help develop literacy in the community.  The Literacy Volunteers asked for support for its “Let’s Read Together!” program.  This program focuses on Tallahassee’s south side, an area with a 24% poverty rate.  The program helps parents learn to read as necessary and helps parents learn to be “first teachers” for their younger children.   All funds go toward program materials – books and book bags.

3.   Capital City Youth Services: CCYS operates the only youth crisis shelter for 10-17 year olds in the Big Bend area.   CCYS helps runaways and other youth in trouble.   It requested funds for its Asking for Money program, which rewards clients for good behavior.

4.   Ethiopian National Project: The Ethiopian population in Israel has the highest rate of poverty of any group in Israel.  ENP’s scholastic assistance program provides extras schooling in small groups to help teens pass their exams for high school and to do better on them.  ENP spends $1,360 to provide one teen extra support for an entire year.  The requested $2,500 could provide almost enough funds to support two teens for a year.

5.   The Jaffa Institute: The Institute helps severely disadvantaged children and their families in Jaffa.   The Institute asked us to participate in its Fight against Hunger program, which includes a Hot Lunch Program, a Sandwich for every Child program, and others.  The requested $2,500 would provide 883 hot meals, which would feed 4 children for an entire year.

For the 2nd year of the Teen Board, the Teens considered six applications for funding.   Based on feedback from the Teen Board, we requested applications from four of the five groups that had applied the first year (all but the Literacy Volunteers).   Because some of the teens expressed an interest in environmental issues, and in order to keep the experience “fresh” for Teen Board members, we asked two environmental groups to apply for this 2nd year, The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and a local wildlife rehabilitation organization, St. Francis Wildlife Association.

For the 3rd year, the Teen Board considered applications from seven organizations for funding.  It decided to continue its support for several groups, the Big Bend Homeless Coalition, St. Francis Wildlife Association, Ethiopian National Project, and The Jaffa Institute, and to invite applications from organizations with which it had not worked before – Magen David Adom (the Israeli Red Cross), Chimes Israel, and Save a Child’s Heart.

4.    Teen Board Member Q & A Sessions with Applicants

Teen Board members reviewed each application for funding.   Teen Board members visited each local applicant so that the teens could see the site, learn about the organization, and ask organization officials about the proposal for funding.   The Teen Board members had phone or Skype conversations with the Israeli applicants for the same purposes. These sessions proved extremely valuable as the teens had a chance to learn about the organizations and the specific projects for which funding was being sought and to ask questions about the projects.


5.   Teen Board Allocations Process

The Teen Board devoted its final meeting each year to considering the applications and allocating the funds available.   The funding decisions were completely up to the Teen Board.   Each year, the Board members had a very constructive discussion and made their allocation decisions.


6.    Awards Ceremony

Each teen who completed service as a Board Member received a Certificate recognizing the teen’s service and a letter documenting community service hours.  During the 1st year’s Award Ceremony we gave each Teen Board Member a copy of The Chesed Boomerang, a book that highlights the value of giving to the person who is doing the giving.  For year two, we gave each teen I am Jewish, a book of personal reflections inspired by the last words of Daniel Pearl.   For the third year, the Teen Board members indicated that they preferred that, rather than books for them, the funds that would have been used for that purpose instead be devoted to the 4th year of the Teen Board.

We invited our adult volunteers who did so much to make the Initiative a success, Arthur Stern, Susan Turner, Wendi Adelson (years 1 and 2), Meredith Mercer (years 1 and 2), and Ilana Goldenberg (year 3) to participate and thanked them for all of their work.   We also invited Teen Board member parents to join us for the Awards Ceremony.    Leaders of different applicants joined us for the Ceremony to thank the Teen Board members and to congratulate them.   Each representative was very complimentary of the Teen Board and explained how the Teens’ allocations are already being put to good use to help people in need here in Tallahassee and in Israel.


7.    Miscellaneous – Accountability, Feedback, and Next Steps

We structured the Teen Initiative so that we could obtain immediate feedback from the Teen Members about their experience. After each meeting, each Teen Board member anonymously completed a one-page evaluation to help us gauge the Board members’ thoughts about the Initiative.   The evaluations for every year have been extremely positive.   The Teen Board members indicated that they found the sessions and the experience to be very worthwhile.

We also received very positive feedback from the parents both anecdotally and through an anonymous survey.   We have been delighted that the parents have found the experience to be useful and think it is worthwhile and important to continue the Initiative.

To sum up, Federation has been very pleased with the first three years of the Teen Philanthropy Initiative.  It has enabled many of our local Jewish youth to get to know each other, which is especially important in a community like ours, where schools often have only a handful of Jewish students in each grade.  It has also enabled our youth to learn about societal needs locally and in Israel and about the organizations that seek to meet those needs and the challenges those organizations face.  Our hope, and sense, is that by educating our youth in this way the Initiative will help them be adult members of society who are committed to helping those who are less fortunate, as our Jewish (and many other traditions) encourage all of us to do.  Further, the Initiative has helped our youth to develop decision-making skills that will make them effective community members, as they had to gather and consider relevant information and ultimately work together to make difficult allocation decisions.  We have been very impressed by the responsible and constructive approach the Teen Board members brought to their work of identifying organizations to invite to apply for funding, evaluating the applications, meeting with and questioning the applicants about their projects, and allocating their funds.  Finally, the wonderful feedback we have received from the organizations involved demonstrates that the Initiative has made a very real and significant difference in the lives of many people and it has strengthened our society’s capacity to help those in need.  The Teen Board has worked with very worthwhile organizations and its funding has made a real difference in the ability of these organizations to meet critical needs.

We remain extremely grateful to the Rintels Foundation and Arthur Stern for their generosity, which has been indispensable to this important Initiative.  Our Federation, which is run entirely by volunteers, is committed to continuing this Initiative, and another modeled after it that we established last year for our “next generation” of leaders, so long as we have the financial means to do so, and so long as community interest in such initiatives remains strong.  We have already begun the 4th year of the Teen Initiative, and the 2nd year of our “Next Gen” Initiative, thanks to the continuing Rintels Foundation support and the willingness of participants to contribute their own funds to these Initiatives.