Teens learn real-world philanthropy on charitable board

UJA's Jewish Teen Board
UJA's Jewish Teen Board

Thirty Jewish teens will spend the next seven months making real-world financial decisions together, with the direct impact reflected in the Toronto Jewish community.

The Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto, in collaboration with WOW!, an initiative of UJA Federation’s Julia and Henry Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education and the Jewish Teen Funders Network, launched a new project this month called the Jewish Teen Board.

Funding will also come from Laura Lauder and the Maimonides Fund.

The venture will see a group of high school students from around the city forming a volunteer philanthropy board and going through an actual granting process involving organizations in the community.

Program co-ordinator Aron Katz said the board is the first program of its kind in the Toronto Jewish community, but it’s launching alongside similar programs being run in Boston and Melbourne, Australia, a year after the San Diego Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish Fund in Detroit created teen boards of their own.

The purpose, Katz explained, is to “grow supplementary Jewish education and engagement” by encouraging giving and creating social change through a Jewish lens.

It will further give the teenage participants, who range from grades 9 to 11, the chance to fulfil their quota of school-mandated community service hours in a way that’s educational and meaningful.

The 30 students who comprise the board were selected Oct. 7, following an application process involving interviews and, for some of the applicants, a nomination from someone in a leadership position within the community.

Katz said the response was overwhelming and that the program attracted students from Jewish high schools in Toronto, as well as students from public schools in other GTA municipalities such as Newmarket and Oakville who may have had less exposure to Jewish communal life.

“We looked for people who want to make a difference in the community and enhance their leadership abilities,” he said.

From the end of October to June, the teens will meet once a month at the Lipa Green Centre and operate in the same way a charitable or family foundation does: they’ll learn about the needs facing the Jewish community and create a mission statement after choosing to focus on one area, such as senior citizens, the Holocaust survivor community, health or food security.

From there, they’ll work to forge connections with the different charities and agencies that provide services in line with their mandate. They’ll then put out a request for grant proposals to different charitable organizations and agencies, who will submit grant applications to the board. 

Lastly, the board will undergo a review process and at the program’s culmination, hold a ceremony to present cheques to the organizations they’ve chosen to support and summarize all the work they’ve done.

Katz said the Jewish Foundation doesn’t yet know how much money funders will give the board for grants. He also said he’s not sure how many groups the board will give grants to, since that it will depend on the need they choose to support.

The grant money will come primarily from the board’s funders, but the students themselves will also do some fundraising. Katz said that will help them get a taste of what it’s like to engage potential donors and ultimately “close the deal.”

With an educational background in marketing and communications, Katz said he’ll be training the teens in strategic philanthropy and fundraising skills, but that partners of the Jewish Foundation and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto will also provide mentorship and networking opportunities.

Katz said the program gives teens an insider view of how charities work.

“A lot of these teenagers have volunteered in places like soup kitchens or seniors homes. But this program shows them… the nature of why these types of organizations exist and allows them to them make a difference from the root. It lets them see a program on paper that doesn’t yet exist and make decisions to fund something they’ll later see in action.”