When a group of parents at Brandeis-Hillel Day School in San Francisco started the Seventh Grade Fund in 1997, as a way for their teenagers to raise money for the community, they didn’t know they were on the forefront of a new movement. Now known as the Tzedek Program and still going strong, the fund has become an early model for today’s professional field of youth philanthropy.
Educators and Jewish professionals in this field — who teach kids how to give back — will gather for the Jewish Teen Funders Summit from March 17 to 19 in San Francisco. It’s a chance for people who work with teens on philanthropy to learn from others who are doing the same.
“This is a rare opportunity for us to be on the West Coast and engage with the San Francisco community,” said Wayne Green, director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network, the New York City-based organizer of the summit.
The event is happening at the same time as the larger Jewish Funders Network summit, also being held in San Francisco, as JTFN is a program of JFN. The conferences are mostly separate, although they will share a location, the Hilton in Union Square, and some programs.
JFN works with Jewish funders to “improve the quality of their giving and maximize their impact as they make the change they want to see in the world,” as the organization puts in on its website. Youth philanthropy education, a small but growing field, is part of the mission, designed to give teens a chance to put their budding Jewish values into practice while strengthening their connection to the community.
“Teens, more than ever, are really looking for where they can fit in the world and how they can contribute,” Green said.
Teen funding can be a collective effort, where high-schoolers raise money, collect donations and write grants, then decide which agencies and nonprofits get the money. Additionally, there are also programs that encourage teens to give on an individual level, for example donating their b’nai mitzvot money to a cause.
Teens, more than ever, are really looking for where they can fit in the world and how they can contribute.
“No matter what their age is, they can begin to have some level of impact right away,” said Loal Isaacs, director of youth philanthropy at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.
Isaacs is on the steering committee for the event and is speaking on the power imbalance inherent in philanthropy and how, he said, “to avoid the pitfalls of the savior complex.” He’s also moderating a panel of teens from the Federation’s three youth philanthropy foundations.
Other conference topics include how to start a new philanthropy program or adapt existing programs to current events or national disasters, how to bolster Jewish identity and LGBTQ inclusion.
The list of speakers includes Mimi Ezray, director of children’s clinical services at Parents Place on the Peninsula (a program of S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services); Adam Weisberg, director of the S.F.-based Diller Teen Initiatives; and Jody Bloom, program manager for the highly regarded Tzedek Program at the Brandeis School in San Francisco.
The Jewish Teen Funders Network is a national organization that connects these sorts of programs. In Northern California, its members include the philanthropy programs at the Brandeis School (S.F.), Brandeis Marin (San Rafael), Gideon Hausner (Palo Alto), Wornick (Foster City) and Yavneh (Los Gatos), as well as Temple Isaiah in Lafayette. The teen philanthropy board of Contra Costa Midrasha is a member, as are the Federation’s three teen foundations — Marin/S.F., North Peninsula and South Peninsula. The teen foundation program was launched in 2004 and since then has raised more than $2.2 million, Isaacs said.
But it’s not just about the money. For teens, it’s really about learning important life skills, Isaacs said, including the lesson that there is no easy fix for difficult systemic problems.
“That’s something the earlier they learn the better,” he said.
And what about the Tzedek Program? In the last four years alone, $110,000 has been raised and donated to 25 nonprofit organizations.