Teen giving

Andrea Cohen with teens at the Jewish Funders Network Conference in Phoenix in 2010.

In almost every aspect of daily lives, the Jewish community had to pivot and find new ways to do things. Philanthropic interaction is no exception. But for teens, the current socially-distanced situation provides unique opportunities for engagement for good. 

Philanthropy is defined as a love of humankind. During this new normal, many people are hurting and needs that existed pre-pandemic have been exacerbated. Fortunately, there are many creative options for teens when it comes to helping others. 

As parents, it’s important we take the opportunity to look at these engagements not just as philanthropy, but Jewish philanthropy. The intention behind actions and recognizing the Jewish values that drive and inspire people sets Jewish philanthropy apart. It isn’t just donating time or dollars to a Jewish organization, it is intentionally speaking of the work as mitzvot and grounding it in a Jewish context. 

According to the Jewish Teen Funders Network ChangeMakers’ curriculum, the seven core Jewish values consistent in Jewish philanthropy are: responsibility, service, loving kindness, human dignity, preservation, hope and justice. 

One of the beautiful perks of philanthropy done as a family is the conversation that the work can generate. And unlike so much in life, there is no right and wrong when looking to help others. The discussion of values, where they occur in people’s lives, and which one(s) inform their actions lead to greater understanding of who people are and who they want to become.

Teens can act now to make an impact. Financial support will always be needed and appreciated by nonprofit organizations. Teens wishing to create life-long charitable funds can establish them at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix through the B’nai Tzedek Youth Philanthropy Program. Typically when becoming a bar or bat mitzvah, teens contribute at least $500 from their gifts. This fund is invested with the more than $60 million at the Foundation, and the income the fund generates is essentially what is granted from year to year. 

This program is intended to help teens create a lifelong philanthropic giving tool. Teens can participate in programming, and in high school they can sit on the Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Board. That board grants $10,000 annually and engages high school students as strategic grant makers.

 In addition to direct financial contributions, there are many opportunities that allow teens to help without risking their health and the health of others. Many of these suggestions are not specific to an agency or organization. So much of the process of becoming a philanthropist is taking the initiative to find where help is needed. With the internet, teens can search causes and initiatives that resonate with them. Taking that first step of investing in their time and talents is so important as they begin their philanthropic journey. 

Some examples of what teens can do are:

Address food insecurity: In addition to all local food pantries, Jewish Family and Children’s Services operates food pantries at many of their offices. JFCS needs both donations of non-perishables as well as volunteers to sort, organize and deliver items.  

Engage with isolated seniors: Whether over the phone or Zoom, there are so many people who really appreciate interaction or need someone to run critical errands.  

Offer childcare and tutoring: Many students are struggling with keeping up with the basics being taught remotely. Volunteering as a tutor or homework buddy whether in person or over Zoom can make a big impact. 

Advocate for policy change: Becoming engaged in policy change will not cost teens money, and they can do it from the safety of their homes. 

Donate blood: The Martin Pear Jewish Community Center has been hosting blood drives on campus since the beginning of pandemic.

Spread cheer: Whether drawing positive messages in sidewalk chalk or on rocks along a path, there are so many no-contact ways to bring smiles to others. 

Foster shelter animals.

Make and donate masks. 

Philanthropy helps improve empathy. When people see what the needs are and engage in helping to meet those needs, they become invested in helping the rest of their lives. That can be critical in developing the next generation of leaders and  caring members of the Jewish communtiy. Investment allows one to take responsibility, show their skills and share their ideas. By involving teens in philanthropy, it makes the community a stronger place and creates mensches. JN

Andrea Cohen is the youth philanthropy director for the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix. For more information on how teens can start their own charitable endowment funds and be a part of the B’nai Tzedek Youth Philanthropy Program, contact Andrea Cohen at acohen@jcfphoenix.org.

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