Jewish Teen Philanthropists Make A Difference

This article  was first published as “Across North America, dozens of Jewish teen foundations bring fresh energy to charitable work” in The Times of Israel.

Members of the East Bay board of the Jewish Teen Foundation of the San Francisco Jewish Community Endowment Fund present a grant (photo credit: Courtesy)

Sue Schwartzman, director of philanthropic education at the San Francisco Jewish Community Endowment Fund, beamed as she sat at the back of the room at a recent ceremony held at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, California. She was watching a group of 23 high school students present sizeable grants to eight different non-profit organizations that address homelessness and related issues. Anyone would have smiled at seeing these young people make this kind of impact, but Schwartzman had even more of a reason to celebrate the moment.

In little over a decade, a tzedaka class project Schwartzman initiated as a middle school teacher at the Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto has grown into the highly successful Jewish Teen Foundation program of the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. Since 2003, the program has engaged 500 teens, who have served on four different Bay Area boards, and who have raised and allocated $1.3 million to non-profits operating locally, in Israel and in other countries around the world.

“Kids today are what we call the ‘one-touch’ generation. They know what is going on in the world, and they want their lives to be more meaningful than past generations,” Schwartzman said. “Our teen foundation gives them a clear, defined path to learn about tzedaka and philanthropy, and to take action.”

Although the San Francisco Jewish Teen Foundation is unique in some ways, it is by no means the only Jewish teen foundation in North America. According to Stefanie Zelkind, Director of Youth Philanthropy at the Jewish Funders Network, there are currently 51 teen foundations operating out of JCCs, schools, summer camps, bureaus of Jewish education, and Jewish community federations. By this fall, there will be another 30 foundations up and running. In addition to these, there are also 37 individual giving programs, whereby individual teens set up their own mini-foundations. At least a couple of thousand young people are involved in these efforts annually.

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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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