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From Designer Rags to Altruistic Riches

by Danielle Cohen
Originally appeared on the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta website
The Atlana Jewish Teen Foundation is a member of Jewish Teen Funders Network

Budding fashionistas would swoon at the fashion marketing internship Gina Karseboom landed last summer when she worked in the heart of Manhattan near Fifth Avenue. But high fashion was not gratifying for Gina, and she felt unfulfilled by the work. After spending the 2012-2013 school year on the Board of the Atlanta Jewish Teen Foundation (AJTF), Gina’s priorities shifted and her outlook on life changed. “I found out how much I enjoyed giving back; I felt like I had accomplished something,” she explains. “My AJTF experience helped me become more open-minded and taught me the importance of giving. It really impacted my career path.” The recent high school graduate is now focused on a future grounded in Jewish philanthropy.

Through her involvement with Jewish Student Union – a program also supported by the Federation - Gina learned about applying for the AJTF Board, which tasks Jewish high school sophomores and juniors with allocating $10,000 to non-profit organizations and programs. The students write a request for proposal (RFP) based on their agreed-upon mission, learn about the potential grantees, and then allocate the funds based on consensus. Gina admits she was baffled at the onset as to how the blended group of 10th and 11th graders from various schools and neighborhoods, with different interests and ideas, could find common ground. “Once we let go of our pride and worked together for a greater good, it was possible,” Gina emphasizes.

“The most meaningful part of my experience was connecting with the different organizations that applied for the grant,” Gina affirms. “It was really amazing to see how passionate the representatives were about their organizations.” The whole experience affected her so much that she wanted to continue contributing beyond her one-year term. After reaching out to her AJTF advisors, Gina mentored the new Board, sharing her experience and answering questions.

Gina’s dedication to charitable organizations has continued to grow. In fact, her experience with AJTF epitomizes Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s mission to care for Jews in need today and build strong Jewish community for tomorrow: Gina hopes to work for Federation and guide benefactors with their giving one day. “Working for Federation would help me 'play my part' in the world,” Gina says. “I have grown up being involved in the Atlanta Jewish community, and I have a responsibility to give back to the community that I have always been able to rely on.”

The Atlanta Jewish Teen Foundation’s goal is to create a network of teen philanthropists in Atlanta. This year, 23 high school students from the Atlanta area were selected and entrusted to allocate $15,000 (due to an anonymous gift of an additional $5,000) to deserving organizations rooted in Jewish values.  During 12 sessions that were spread out over a seven-month period, the teen foundation’s members wrestled with how to apply Jewish values and teachings relating to tzedakah and communal responsibility to their work and ultimately awarded the $15,000 as follows:

 $7,000 to SOAR a program focusing on Special Olympics at the MJCCA

$6,000 to the Health and Wellness Initiative at the Zaban Couples Center

$2,000 to the Meal Rescue Project for Leket Israel, Israel’s National Food Bank

Mazel Tov to our participants and grant award winners!

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