An incredible part of my role as Director is the amazing communities I get to visit and connect with on a professional and personal level…
Three weeks ago, I went on my first ever visit in Houston, Texas. The Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center is the tenth community to be part of the Foundation Board Incubator program, an initiative of Jewish Teen Funders Network that partners with communities to launch new, high-investment, pluralistic and community-wide Jewish teen philanthropy programs. The Foundation Board Incubator is a project of the Jewish Teen Funders Network, generously funded by Laura Lauder and the Maimonides Fund. With excitement to meet the new community, little prepared me for what I was about to learn about the resilience, warmth, and joy this Jewish community holds less than one year after a Hurricane that devastated the city, community and peoples’ lives.
As a complete Aussie stranger in America’s fourth most populous city, I was welcomed into peoples’ homes, I was invited out for dinner, I was hugged and embraced after meeting and shared stories with new colleagues. Individuals openly revealed their experiences of the hurricane as well as personal stories about their determination to overcome. The pain of that day, August 25th, 2017 remains evident in some of the language people use, and in the slight wavering of peoples’ voices as they speak about where they are today. It’s a city, a community that is physically rebuilding and one that is still understanding, navigating and working on the emotional repairs.
What is humbling to see and experience during my visit is the juxtaposition of the devastation that is evident in everyday life with the hope and determination to rebuild, reconnect and move forward. Story after story, each experience shared, told of survival and a focus on moving forward. Listening to a story about a rescue from flooding waters, crying babies in a mother’s arms, kayaks strapped to the back of moving cars to move kids and families trapped by water, abandoned cars, homes, personal possessions, and memories, I am struck at the trauma this community continues to hold. But what is overwhelming is that this city and community is determined to rebuild, survive and thrive.
The new teen philanthropy program has arrived at a time when teenagers in Houston and around the country are fiercely determined to make a change for good and to make an impact on how they want their lives and community to be. In Houston in particular, teens that I met spoke about their experiences of the hurricane and about their responses to rebuild and to be part of the connection to the community’s repairs. The Foundation Board Incubator program is intentionally designed to work with teens’ personal values and utilize their individual talents as a collective to make an impact on their community through philanthropy. As the CEO of the ER JCC, Joel Dinkin, said to me during a conversation, “the people want community. They want to feel part of something. They want to feel connected.”
The community in Houston is ready to take on this new opportunity to teach their teens how to lead and be strong advocates for change. Parents that I met all expressed their excitement about what Jewish teen philanthropy will offer their children and that the timing for this program supports the swell of teens standing up for who they are and what they believe in.
The Houston Jewish community has embraced its challenges and is seeking innovative ways to repair and move forward. The investment in teens to give voice and leadership to this movement is an important part of the collective to rebuild, reshape and rethink what is possible…
I am excited to see how this community continues to rebuild, create and innovate as our partnership grows.
Director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network