On Super Sunday, 16-year-old Marlene Cohen and a group of South Peninsula teens will become COWS, but not the four-legged kind. These COWS don't moo, they make phone calls, performing tzedakah (charity).
COWS — for Community of Workers — will take an active role during the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's 16th annual phonathon, held simultaneously in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (The teen effort will only take place in the South Peninsula.)
When they call their peers on Super Sunday, Nov. 19, the group will make an unusual appeal. Unlike adult volunteers who ask fellow Jews to make a pledge to the JCF's 1996 Annual Campaign, the COWS will invite other teens to take part in a unique Chanukah drive.
"We're going to ask them to be part of a group that will collect donations, then shop and wrap Chanukah presents for needy families in our community," said Cohen, who along with her brother Mike, 13, is spearheading the drive.
It was Mike Cohen who thought of the COWS name. He had been trying to find an acronym for the group when suddenly a favorite song by the rock band Foo Fighters played on the radio. He said the lyrics, about someone being called a cow, led to the idea of the cow theme.
"Cows are very big with teens," explained his mom, Fran, one of the adults helping to coordinate the program. "The group even bought a rubber stamp in the shape of a cow and are using it as their logo."
For the last five years, both Mike and Marlene Cohen, who jointly came up with the idea for the program, had served as "runners" on Super Sunday, assisting adult volunteers. Now, the Cohen teens and others are eager to make calls during the Bay Area Jewish community's largest one-day fund-raising event. Last year, some $2.2 million was raised for more than 60 Jewish agencies and programs locally, in Israel and in other countries.
The teen telephoners, backed by a team of more than 40 volunteers in grades eight to 10, will be working in shifts. They aim to reach as many of their fellow teens as possible. They will phone primarily teens from area Hebrew high schools and youth groups. But Mike Cohen stressed, "We don't want to leave out the unaffiliated, so we're hoping they'll hear about us and call us."
Like Mike Cohen, a large number of the COW crew are participants in the Teen Leadership Connection (TLC), a year-round program in Jewish education for teens, partially funded with a grant from the JCF's Endowment Kohn Fund. "Super Sunday is part of our curriculum on community involvement," said Susan Protter, director of teen services at the JCC.
"Look," she joked, "we're talking about teens here…Telling them it's a requirement to get on the phone was not real hard!"
Following Super Sunday, teens reached by phone are expected to act on their pledge by attending an event called Presents and Pizza next month at the JCC. On that day, said Marlene, everyone will bring a (suggested) donation of $10, divide into shopping groups, hit Target or Safeway, then return to wrap presents and eat pizza together. The presents will be delivered to the Jewish Family and Children's Services in Palo Alto for distribution to needy families.
Citing the project as a way to plug teens into the Jewish community, South Peninsula Super Sunday chairs Anne Steirman and Alan Rosen noted that it was the teens themselves who insisted that a training session — conducted last week by veteran JCF volunteers — include a talk on where the money raised on Super Sunday actually goes.
The teens learned that Super Sunday dollars help to provide such services as housing and medical care for the elderly, emergency food, shelter and cash for those in need, resettlement for immigrants here and in Israel, and help for people with AIDS.
While he may never meet the people he is working so hard to help, Mike said he can easily imagine them as "a family who may be homeless, or a mom with three or four kids… little kids…who just don't have the extra money for material things."
Adult volunteers are still needed at both Super Sunday locations. In San Francisco, call the Super Sunday headquarters office at (415) 777-0411. To volunteer in the South Peninsula, or for more information about the COW effort, call (415) 494-8444.