6/27/2011
Teen Youth Foundation members select eight grantees from a pool of 36 local, national, and International Jewish nonprofit organizations to receive funds.

The B'nai Tzedek Youth Foundation, a leadership board of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation's B'nai Tzedek Teen Philanthropy Program, recently voted to give over $12,000 to local, national, and international Jewish charities.

On May 1 and May 15, Teen Youth Foundation members selected eight grantees from a pool of 36 local, national, and International Jewish nonprofit organizations. The greatest beneficiaries of the grant funds this year included groups aiding Jews abroad and fostering peace in the Middle East as well as Western Massachusetts groups feeding the hungry.

B'nai Tzedek, founded by Longmeadow philanthropist Harold Grinspoon, provides teens an opportunity to learn about becoming tomorrow's philanthropists today. The B'nai Tzedek community has over 900 teens and alumni from throughout Western Massachusetts. Each year, teens from the B'nai Tzedek community are selected to be part of the B'nai Tzedek Youth Foundation, a leadership group for teens who wish for a more intensive experience of leadership and philanthropy in action. These teens engage in community service, fundraising projects, and collective grant-making.

The grant-making process for the B'nai Tzedek Youth Foundation began in the fall, when teens drafted a group mission statement, raised funds, and started to reviewed grant applications. The B'nai Tzedek Youth Foundation makes grants to Jewish organizations every year, using funds they raised themselves throughout the year. Teens raised funds by holding a dance-a-thon, selling baked goods, hosting tag sales, babysitting, and taking part in other creative activities. In turn, these funds are matched by Harold Grinspoon.

"Watching the teens experience the process of raising funds and making grant decisions is inspiring," says B'nai Tzedek program director Valerie Gintis. "Because each teen invested their own volunteer time and money, they are deeply committed to a grant review process that is thoughtful and remains closely aligned to their mission statement. The process, co-led by teens, guarantees that all voices are heard and that the group makes decisions by consensus, while modeling teen leadership."

This year, teens allocated $2,000 each for Kulanu, a 20-year old group that started by aiding the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda, and Or Shalom, which provides residential and therapeutic Israeli children removed from their homes due to severe abuse or neglect.

B'nai Tzedek allocated $1,100 to Hagar: Jewish-Arab Education for Equality, which offers bilingual and multicultural school and community programming in Israel. Arab and Jewish, largely to the Negev community, study and learn together in balanced numbers. The group now boasts 140 students from nursery school to third grade. In addition to funding this program, B'nai Tzedek Youth Foundation teen Maya Berkman will spend the summer volunteering with this organization in Israel.

With an eye on matters at home, but not solely in the Jewish community, teens on the Youth Foundation gave $2,000 each to Western Massachusetts institutions benefitting Jews in need as well as the community at large: the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, Rachel's Table, and Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts.

The Pittsfield-based Jewish Federation will be using its allocation to provide hot kosher meals for the elderly. Jewish Family Service will provide resettlement assistance for refugee families arriving in the greater Springfield area. Funds for Rachel's Table will go to its Gleaning Project, for which volunteers pick crops from local farms near the end of the season, providing the region's hungry with good food that might be otherwise wasted.

Teen Philanthropist, Juliana Gensheimer, shared this observation, "B'nai Tzedek has inspired me. It's interesting when you meet teens from all over the region, to share your common interest in tikkum olam (Hebrew, meaning healing the world). I love hearing about what the other teens do philanthropically, and it's nice to have a network of teens throughout the region that care about tikkum olam."

"The benefits of our Gleaning Project are amazing," said Deborah Rubenstein, director of Rachel's Table. "Teens have the opportunity to invest their money knowing that there is a high return: while the costs for each day of gleaning are approximately $500, the teens collect between $2,000 and $4,000 dollars of produce, and also they have the opportunity to actively participate in the mitzvah of helping the hungry."

To learn more about B'nai Tzedek Teen Philanthropy Program or to become part of this exciting program, visit www.hgf.org.