Thinking Outside the Tzedakah Box

by Naomi Skop Richter, Jewish Teen Funders Network Program Associate
This blog was originally posted on The Campfire from the Foundation for Jewish Camp

“… being awarded the Jewish Teen Funders Network grant gave a group of 42 teenagers a chance to make a big difference in the world… This program taught me responsibility, appreciation, and how charity functions.”
-Rachael Cohn, URJ Camp Jacobs Camp (Utica,MS)

Summer camps are filled with opportunities to pair the deep bonds of friendship with formative experiential learning opportunities. Ask a “camp person” about her formative Jewish experiences and watch her face light up as she recalls the special moment that opened her fourteen-year-old world to a new way of thinking or being Jewishly. These experiences shape teens in significant ways – often guiding them on their professional and volunteer journeys — as many former campers can attest.

As the Jewish community becomes increasingly concerned with who will fund Jewish organizations and projects in the years to come, the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN) launched a pilot program, “Think Outside the Tzedakah Box,” in 20 camps this summer, pairing hands-on learning about philanthropy and the best of camp. In the safe space of their special immersion experiences, groups of teens learned about why giving is a Jewish value, determined funding priorities as a group, reviewed grant proposals, and went on site visits. Operating as a “teen foundation,” they challenged each other’s assumptions, engaged in a consensus building process, and ultimately gave real grants (of real money) to non-profit organizations. In total, over 500 teens participated in teen foundations this summer and awarded over $20,000 in grants to organizations they researched, vetted, and visited.

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