J Teen Connect AZ’s website, JTeenConnectAZ.org, is up and running with the hopes that it will increase teens’ community engagement while deepening their Jewish roots during their high school years.
Jennifer Schwarz founded J Teen Connect AZ in 2017 to help teenagers find programs in which they would be interested.
“We started to realize that a primary reason teens were not participating in these Jewish programs was simply because they didn’t know they even existed,” Schwarz said. “J Teen Connect AZ is changing this. We are making it easy to find such programs and to see why it is important for teens to participate in them.”
J Teen Connect collaborates with more than 25 Jewish teen programs across the Valley. The website, launched last month, displays a variety of programs and
activities teens can become involved with, such as youth groups, leadership and education, social action, sports and fitness, arts and theater, and Israel advocacy. The site also links to more than 400 travel programs, as well as job and internship opportunities.
Some of the programs that J Teen Connect features on its website are BBYO, Mitzvah Hub and Hebrew High Care-A-Van. Schwarz said the overall goal is to turn the website into the largest central hub of information for all types of teen organizations.
The website contains descriptions of each organization, videos, photos and a calendar full of upcoming events that teens can attend. The site also connects to financial assistance groups for those who may need it.
Schwarz said that before the website was launched, J Teen Connect sent out a monthly electronic newsletter that reached more than 300 subscribers. The group also utilized social media sites such as Facebook, as well as events to promote groups and upcoming programs.
J Teen committee member Debbie Berkowitz helped organize the first “What’s What: Valley Jewish Teen Programs 101” event last year at the Valley of the Sun JCC. The event allowed parents to see a two-minute “commercial” from all the participating organizations. The organizations’ directors and youth representatives also had tables to promote their programs during the event.
Berkowitz said that last year more than 70 parents attended the event and it received a positive response. Another “What’s What” event is planned for April 29. This year, the event will be open to parents and teens and act as a supplement to the website.
Marketing and event consultant Jennifer Starrett was brought on to lead the design and creation of the new site after Schwarz noticed her website jewphx.com. Starrett’s personal site works as a blog and clearinghouse for local Jewish events, as well as showcasing her personal recipes.
“Designing a website that was not only useful but was also aesthetically pleasing and mobile-friendly were top priorities,” Starrett said. “Now that they have JTeenConnectAZ.org as a center for this information, teens won’t have to look in several different locations for their options, which will hopefully make it easier for them to attend events and find a group or program that fits their personality and comfort level.”
Starrett added that currently there isn’t anything like this site in the local Jewish community. The website was created and designed by an all-volunteer staff and with few financial resources. Schwarz said that the site has logged more than 700 views since it launched last month.
For Schwarz, creating an accessible platform for teens is only half the battle in getting them involved. She said she knows that teenagers may not always be the most enthusiastic about trying new things, but she has seen a great response when teens are properly encouraged; the new website just makes it simpler to find the right program for the right teen.
“Teens don’t know what they are rejecting until they have given it a meaningful try,” Schwarz said. “Jewish connection offers something that you can’t know what it feels like unless you have felt it. We should want our teens to know this feeling, even if they resist it, which many undoubtedly will.”
As a mother herself, Berkowitz is glad there is now a simple way to find all the different Jewish organizations teenagers can join. Youth engagement is critical to the Jewish community, she said.
“Building a strong Jewish foundation in our community will help our children grow and continue to foster their Jewish roots in college and in their lives as adults,” Berkowitz said. JN