Teen Philanthropy Solves Puzzle

Teen Philanthropy Solves Puzzle

By Kevin Madigan


Photo by Kevin Madigan – Stefanie Zelkind (left) and Melissa Kurtzman participate in a discussion on teen philanthropy Feb. 13.

A breakout session on teen philanthropy at the BBYO International Convention’s Summit of Jewish Teens featured a detailed presentation by Stefanie Zelkind, the director of the New York-based Jewish Teen Funders Network.

The philanthropic activities of her organization include social justice initiatives, grant making, volunteering, advocacy, alternative vocations and tzedakah drives. JTFN aims to teach teens about giving “by giving them opportunity to really do it,” she said. “We have programs all over the U.S., from day schools and synagogues to summer camps and JCCs.”

Teens in the program are taught how to evaluate grant requests, consider proposals, know what questions to ask and which criteria to use, then arrive at a consensus. They must make site visits and learn how and when to turn someone down.

“It’s all part of a big philanthropic puzzle. We see teens get very involved and passionate about it, and it’s an opportunity for us to do more, go deeper, and educate them about the work of philanthropy and to explore Jewish values,” Zelkind said. “They operate like a giving circle, as a wonderful way to leverage modest dollars.”

She said the process raises educational standards by having peers talk through questions and grapple with them.

Melissa Kurtzman, one of two teens in the discussion, spoke about the work she does for the Children’s Medical Center foundation in Dallas, Texas, where she lives. She was a patient at the hospital 10 years ago and now sits on its Junior Leadership Board.

“We raise funds for the hospital and for other nonprofit and for-profit organizations. We learn how they get their money as well as the inner workings of their departments,” she said.

The hospital’s big event every year is the Red Balloon Run & Ride 5K run/walk and 5K to 10K bike ride. Every dollar is raised from registration fees, personal pledges and other funding efforts, Kurtzman said.

Through the Dallas BBYO council, Kurtzman raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and takes part in the annual Light the Night Walk to honor a young cancer victim. “We got $1,000 this past year. All the money goes straight to them,” she said. “There’s no filter through any side organization.”

Ultimately, it’s not about the money, Zelkind said. Philanthropy gives teens a chance to deal seriously with questions of responsibility, priorities and “what Judaism teaches us about giving.”

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