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Naturally moving from hands on service to philanthropy with J-Teen Leadership

By Sarah Toldeano, Program Director and Leadership Coach, J-Teen Leadership

Introduction to J-Teen Leadership-

J-Teen Leadership started in 2006 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when a group of social justice minded Jewish teens banded together and asked themselves, “how can we help?” That year, these teens and their parents travelled back and forth from Louisiana to Westchester, NY multiple times bringing needed humanitarian supplies to the residents and helping with reconstruction work. Looking back on all that was accomplished with those trips, the teens asked themselves what were they doing to help their local Westchester community. From there J-Teen Leadership was founded.

Mission and vision of J-Teen Leadership-

J-Teen Leadership is dedicated to empowering and inspiring Jewish teens from all backgrounds with leadership training, core Jewish values and community service, so they can start contributing to the Jewish community and the world- today!

J-Teen Leadership provides a platform for teens to develop a collective voice, address issues confronting society, connect to one another and be change agents in repairing the world. Recognizing that teens are critical thinkers who can mobilize and motivate their peers, J-Teen Leadership programming is teen-led, meaningful and fun.

J-Teen Leadership focuses on three things (1) local hands on volunteering open to all teens, (2) national and international service trips open to all teens, and (3) our Leadership Circle, a self-selecting group of teens who want to learn more about social justice and build their leadership skills.

Naturally moving from hands on service to philanthropy-

While J-Teen Leadership started as a hands on service organization and that remains a large part of our identity, we have also moved into the field of teen philanthropy. Philanthropy has always had a role in the curriculum of our service trips. Before trips, we would encourage our teens to ask their friends and family for gift cards to give away or donations for the charities that we would visit. We also hosted many drives for donations such as toiletries, teddy bears, dress clothing, children’s clothing etc. But we never ventured into the world of grant making and planning. However, this is a very logical step for our program.

As a teen led, adult supervised program, our teens were the ones to first ask what else can we do for our partner agencies. Some of these partner agencies we had been working with for years. As our teens became more entrenched in our partner agencies, they recognized the need for monetary funds. I had no idea what a Jewish philanthropy program would involve, but I had goals for the program, (1) The teens will develop the confidence to ask for funds, (2) teens will be involved in all parts of the granting process – first step was to ask agencies where will this money go?, (3) teens will learn how to use their values (Jewish teens with Jewish values) to determine where their money goes. With the help and guidance of JTFN, we are in the middle of our first ever J-Teen Leadership philanthropy drive. Our process is not full developed, but we are building steadily to a more mature philanthropic program. Our teens have already faced and overcome challenges learning how to put themselves out there by making announcements at their school, explaining where the money will go, and reaching out to potential donors that are not their family members.

Moving towards a dual program model that stresses both hands on service and philanthropy has taught our teens that there is more than one way to give back your community.