Justin Hirsch, a Homestead High School senior, says he likes reviewing grant applications and studying projects that need funding.
Justin gets this experience and much more through his membership on the Teen Philanthropy Board, a program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. For more than five years, the Board has brought Jewish teens together to engage in fundraising, grant making and philanthropy.
Monthly sessions with 35 board members are meant to empower teens to use philanthropy as a means to make social change, said Jennifer Saber, the Federation coordinator of the Teen Philanthropy Board.
“It’s a perfect opportunity to find new ways to help people through decisions on how to allocate funds,” said Bennett Friedman, a junior at Nicolet High School.
The 2021-2022 teen board reviewed and chose four local grant recipients. They were: a child and family counseling program of the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Foundation; a hydroponic growing system at the Friendship Circle to be used in employment training for adults with special needs; a learning lab for the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center; and a job training program for a garden project of JCC Rainbow Day Camp.
Levi Stein, executive director of The Friendship Circle of Wisconsin, is impressed with the board, which allocated $4,900 to his organization.
“It’s a beautiful program. Nowadays, a lot of grown-ups struggle with understanding what it means to give and what it means to be a true philanthropist. Teaching them at a young age will really help train their minds to think at those levels.”
The Teen Philanthropy Board is trying something new this year, Saber said. “Normally in the past we’ve allocated funding to these organizations. I think it’s important that teens get to know the organization inside and out to really understand where their funding is going and the difference they’ve made with their dollars.”
Teens are doing site visits, “seeing the impacts of their grants and building a relationship with the organization,” Saber said.
“We donated to Friendship Circle and got to see their first harvest, a lettuce garden,” said Bennett, who got his start in Jewish leadership as president of his BBYO chapter.
Grants are made in Israel too. “We are very fortunate to receive a $2,000 allocation from the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Israel and Overseas Committee to allocate to non-profits in Israel,” Saber said.
In Israel, the teens worked with a partnering high school in Beit Yerach to investigate funding opportunities. The recipients of $1,000 grants were the Miri Belish Morad Breast Health Institute and the Porsot Knafaim (Spreading Wings) Project, a mentoring program for girls in crisis.
“Instead of just researching blindly which organizations to allocate funds to, we actually worked with a high school English class,” Saber said. “They were boots on the ground.”
“The partnering high school picked organizations that were meaningful to them and taught us over Zoom about them,” Saber said. “We received really positive feedback from the teens on what philanthropy looks like in Israel.”
Justin said, “We’ve been reviewing how organizations are doing, what’s their impact and how it relates to the morals and values that the board stands by.”
Each board member raises $120 to allocate to the organizations. Bennett raised his sum through a social media appeal.
“I thought this would be a great way to make a difference,” Bennett said. “I’ve learned so much being on the Teen Philanthropy Board. “Now I know a lot about grants and how they are given.”
Saber said the Teen Philanthropy Board builds leadership skills. “Teens get more involved with our community and they are becoming familiar with the ins and outs of the Federation and nonprofits in our community, both Jewish and secular.
“So when they go off on their lifelong journey, they will continue to be leaders, philanthropists in whatever Jewish community they land in.”
This is something different, she said. “They grew up in Hebrew school collecting money in the tzedakah box. Who knows what happens with the money.”
Through the Teen Philanthropy Board, “they are really part of the decision-making process. We explore what causes we are passionate about through the lens of Jewish values,” Saber said.
* * *
Teen Philanthropy Board is now accepting applications for 2022-2023 board membership. The board is looking for a diverse group of Jewish students in grades nine through twelve from the greater Milwaukee area. Students will attend sessions centered around grant-making, non-profit functions, and the philanthropic model through a Jewish viewpoint. Applications are due Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. Visit: MilwaukeeJewish.org/Teens.