Teen engagement initiative receives start-up funding
JCC Association to partner with the Marks JCH of Bensonhurst
What happens when you combine Russian-speaking teens, a focus on arts and technology and the exploration of Jewish identity?
You come up with ARTEL, a collaboration between JCC Association and the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst. This innovative, year-long program, which includes mentoring and a trip to Israel, recently received $150,000 grant from the New York Teen Initiative for Immersive Summer Experiences for Jewish Teens, a project of New York’s Jewish Education Project, which is launching eight incubator projects this summer designed to match Jewish teens with their interests.
“This was a great opportunity to partner with one of our JCCs,” says Jonathan Fass, vice president and director of JCC Maccabi™ and of the Merrin Center for Teen Engagement. “JCCs across the country are creating great opportunities for Jewish teens and as we support JCCs in their work with adolescents, we learn and grow through the partnership.”
The program begins in May with a Shabbat program and in July, the 30 participants will head to Israel for two weeks, where they will visit such sites as the Kotel, Masada, stay in a Bedouin tent, spend time in the Negev, and engage in many of the things any teen trip might, says Allana Skydell, director of teen services and special needs at the Marks JCH.
But there the similarities end.
The teens will also participate in activities geared toward one of two interest tracks, either the arts or tech. The artist group will meet with local artists, visit museums and attend workshops to help them develop their skills. The teens in the tech track will visit Israel’s cutting-edge “start-up nation” companies and universities and work with mentors in their fields.
Once they return to the United States, they will continue to meet in small groups of four to five participants, based on their interests, and be assigned to a mentor to guide them in individual arts and technology projects. At the end of the year, they’ll present their work.
“It’s year-round, with a focus on the Israel piece,” says Skydell. “The idea is that they learn, see, do hands-on, and then they give back to the community.
JCC Association and its JCC Israel Center are handling much of the Israel education piece, according to Fass, who is developing the overall program. “The JCC Movement has a strong Israel education mission at the core of its being, and that we provide outstanding Israel opportunities in creative and dynamic ways for Jewish teens,” he says.
The Marks JCH is finishing selecting the participants, who will all meet later this month. “We’re incredibly excited at the J,” says Violetta Shmulenzon, director of program service and institutional advancement at the Marks JCH. “It was a huge privilege to be part of the incubator to create something that after three or four years are to become models for Jewish teens.”
The grant is part of a $9.2 million initiative funded jointly by UJA-Federation of New York and the Jim Joseph Foundation. One of the interests for the funders about the initiative is that programs be replicable, Fass says. They are interested in creating programs that can be developed in such a way that they can be scaled to work at a national level and in other locations.
“As funders, they are thinking locally about how the programs are scalable and we are in a position to think about how this can be a model for JCCs across the county,” he says.
This article appeared on May 6 at the JCC Circle Magazine, online addition.