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JTFN Youth Ambassadors Reflect on the COVID-19 Crisis

 

Since the start of the pandemic so much of our day to day lives have been impacted.  Recently, we checked in with the JTFN Youth Ambassador Council to see what they are doing to give back and address the COVID-19 Crisis.   

 

What is some advice you would share about giving in this unprecedented moment? What are some things you have been doing?

 

Anything you can give can help, even if it is small. Nonprofits are one of the things people may overlook during this crisis. We must remember that no matter how much we are hurting, or how anxious we are, our community still needs us. Even donating a few dollars will contribute to the bigger picture. Most of the nonprofits we are trying to support are undergoing massive amounts of stress. The effect of the pandemic is devastating and widespread. When the time comes that we are able to return to our jobs, go outside, and hug our friends again, we want to make sure that these nonprofits are still standing. They need to be able to continue their important work in protecting and supporting those in need in our communities.
-Ava Wampold, Giving Initiative for Teens (Seattle, WA)

Count the money in your tzedakah box and donate it! During this unique time, people - especially philanthropists like myself - feel inspired to help their community through donations. However, many people may be struggling with the economic downturn and unemployment, thus making people hesitant to donate money. Nevertheless, many Jewish homes may have extra money set-aside in their tzedakah boxes!  If you don’t have a dedicated tzedakah box, consider collecting loose change from around the house.  Once counted, people can donate without feeling like they are putting a dent in their wallets. Many organizations need donations at this time. In the face of this global crisis, health organizations and food banks need tzedakah more than ever and this is one way that people can do their part and give.
- Molly Cohen, Teen Giving Project (Philadelphia, PA)

Donation to your local food pantry. Many people's resources, including food, are scarce right now. Because of this, some people may be inclined to help in different ways. Regardless of what individuals may or may not be able to donate financially, they still may be in position to donate something from their kitchens.  By recognizing that there may be others with greater needs than their own, they can do their part to support the community.
- Carly Feldstein, Jewish Community Youth Foundation (Princeton, NJ)

Nonprofits of all different shapes and sizes will still need funding support. Along with companies, families, and schools, my board and leadership council, has needed to reevaluate our work and norms during this time. It has not been easy. In zoom meeting after zoom meeting, one common debate came up: whether we should focus on donating to COVID-19 specific organizations or if we should continue exploring the organizations we had previously chosen to consider. Ultimately, we discovered that the two are not mutually exclusive. All of the organizations have also been affected by COVID- 19; we realized that it is imperative to continue to raise money for these organizations so that they can survive during this time and be there to help when this is over. The inequalities of climate change, (our board’s chosen issue area) are not going to go away. In order to move forward with funding, we need to reflect on the multiple realities of the virus right now and the needs of people in the future. We need to ask questions during site visits; not just about how they are dealing with COVID-19 now, but, about how they will deal with the aftermath of the virus. We need to understand how operations have shifted and how goals have changed.
- Shoshana (Shoshi) Gordon, Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston (Boston, MA)

Jewish values can help guide us in times of crisis.  Everyday Mitzvot (commandments of the Torah), guides our lives. Currently we are in a state of Sh’at haDehak (emergency). In Judiasm, Sh’at haDehak, can excuse the breaking of Halakha (Jewish law) or Mitzvot. For example, many synagogues have been holding virtual services which break shomer shabbas (Sabbath Observance), or people without safe access to grocery stores may not have kept kosher for Passover this year. While emergencies allow for certain modifications like this, I argue for a stricter following of others. At a time like this, we need to deeply adhere to Mitzvot like Tzedakah (righteous giving), Chesed (kindness), Areyvut (responsibility), and Tikkun Olam (eepairing the world). In a time of global crisis, Tzedakah becomes increasingly important to restore justice in the world. Halakha mandates when deciding how much to give, we must provide enough to return an individual to the comforts they enjoyed prior their hardships. We, as individuals, may not have the power or resources to return people to their employment, send their children to school, or even allow them to leave their houses for recreation. But we do hold the power to restore some justice to their lives. By allocating wisely and with empathy, we can provide financial relief to those having the most difficulty adjusting. 
- Maya Biskowitz, Milwaukee Jewish Teen Philanthropy Board (Milwaukee, WI)

Online Tutoring and Support. Many children are not currently receiving the individualized academic support that they need and would likely otherwise be getting. Tutoring is a great way to volunteer your time to support kids who need extra help. Another easy way to make an impact with youth in your community and beyond is to provide read-alouds for younger kids. This type of volunteering is even more effective online as it can serve a wider audience. This is a great way to engage little kids and keep them entertained while they are at home. By offering our time and expertise we can support not just the kids but entire families who may be struggling balancing all the different aspects of life at home right now. 
– Jess Richman, Philanthropic Advisory Council for Teens (New York, NY)

Reach out to isolated individuals in your community. Writing letters or making phone calls to isolated individuals in the community is an impactful and tangible way to reassure someone that you are thinking of them and that they have your support. This is a scary and uncertain time, especially for immunocompromised and elderly individuals.  Simply hearing that someone is thinking of them can be very significant and uplifting during this difficult time. An example of this could be writing letters for members of a nearby Jewish nursing home. I know from past work experience in this area that a smiling face and cheerful conversation can be extremely impactful.  By writing letters, we can express our support and spread kindness throughout our community.
-Emily Abrams, Jewish Fund Teen Board (West Bloomfield, MI)

Reevaluate Your Grants and invite organizations to revise their proposals. Right now, the world is going through many changes due to the Covid-19 outbreak. My Jewish teen philanthropy program, Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation has invited organizations to revise their proposals based on current events. As we approached this unprecedented challenge in our funding, many questions came up: Should we donate to new organizations that are asking for grants? Or should we stick with our usual grantees? Should we keep our donations local?  Or should we consider funding on a national or global scale? After a long discussion, we hadn’t reached a conclusive consensus.  What we decided was that we were going to convert the project-based grants to have unrestricted support and accelerate payment schedules in order to offer maximum flexibility to our grantees. Many of these organizations are struggling financially. Allowing organizations to revise their grants will help non-profits keep their doors open so they can continue their good work after Covid-19 resolves. Nonprofits are crucial at a time like this; therefore, it is important to give them the proper support they need by being flexible.
- Mazzi Katzen, Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation (Portland, OR)