Marks JCH Teen Philanthropy Board: Homegrown Young Philanthropists Working to Change the World by Starting at Home

By Gelena Blishteyn
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Now entering its third year, the Marks JCH Teen Philanthropy Board is a successful outgrowth of the Marks JCH’s B’yachad teen resident camp and year-round leadership development program for Russian-speaking Jewish youth. Supported by a generous grant from the Genesis Philanthropy Group, the Teen Philanthropy Board is a group of aspiring teen leaders who gather throughout the academic year to learn about and to enact the Jewish value of philanthropy. This past spring, Marks JCH the Teen Philanthropy Board made its second round of annual allocations to deserving local charities.

Participants met regularly throughout the academic year, learning about the values and mechanics of philanthropy, while exploring their own emerging identities as Russian-speaking Jews. Leveraging the grant funds made available through the J’s partnership with the Genesis Philanthropy Group, the teens raised funds on their own through local events, including bake sales in the lobby of the J, as well as through their own personal contributions. The board spent time learning with staff to identify what causes are most important to them, clarifying their priorities for grantmaking with the goal of making a true impact in the community. They learned about unmet needs in the community, considered how to address problems on local and larger systemic levels, and made decisions about how they could make an impact through their own grantmaking. This year, as with last year, the teens issued a Request for Proposals that would address needs in local Jewish organizations (NYC based). The teen philanthropy board identified specific causes they wanted to fund within their larger goals, including: providing support services to vulnerable communities with higher levels of high school drop-outs, programs providing services to individuals with disabilities, and programs providing services to help victims of domestic violence.

For the second year in a row, the teens from our Russian-speaking Jewish community identified both youth in distress and youth with special needs among their top priorities. We know that the selection of these causes is reflective of the personal experiences of our teens and what they see going on around them in their own lives and in the community at the J.

Given the tech-savvy nature of our teens, the teens created a link to their project through the agency’s website:

Staff helped teens to research the non-profit landscape in New York City in order to identify organizations whose work met the teens’ funding interests. The Request for Proposals was issued to 30 organizations; 8 submitted proposals. The teens carefully read each proposal together with J staff and selected 3 finalists to invite for site visits. After a lengthy process of discussion and debate, using the rubric developed last year by the J in partnership with the philanthropy organization Natan and Jewish Teen Funders’ Network, the teens selected two grantees this year. National Council of Jewish Women New York Section will use their grant to support their Back 2 School Store, providing ‘one-stop shopping’ for brand new school supplies, new clothing, shoes, and a winter coat for underprivileged New York children. The Back 2 School store served 186 children in August 2016. It costs approximately $180 to fully outfit one child with all the necessary clothing, supplies, and accessories to go back to school free from worry about material needs. The grant of $1,500 will provide all necessary clothing and supplies for 8 children. Jewish Union Foundation, a newly rebranded nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities, will use their $1,500 grant to create mock workspaces in their vocational training program for youth with special needs. Vocational staff will deliver training services in JUF’s vocational training center to teach skills in industries such as retail, food services, and construction. This grant will help support JUF’s mission of assisting individuals with developmental disabilities achieve as much independence as possible.

Marks JCH is grateful to GPG for the support of this groundbreaking program in which teens from émigré families are serving as the leaders and decision makers for communal dollars, addressing real needs, and learning to use their voices, values, and dollars for good. Investing in our youth has both a trickle-down effect as well as an impact on the entire family of each RSJ teen. Parents of the teens have begun to contribute toward the teens’ efforts to raise additional funds. They are learning about the value of philanthropy from their children, thanks to the work the J is able to do with the generous support of GPG.

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