Program teaches philanthropy to youth

BY JILL KASSANDER. SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Imagine being a philanthropist starting at age 12. How cool is that? It is possible thanks to the launch of B’nai Tzedek, a new youth philanthropy program of the Central Agency for Jewish Education (CAJE). The innovative program is designed to engage and empower the next generation of Jewish leaders and givers in the St. Louis Jewish community.

The program is geared for teens in their bar/bat mitzvah year, usually sixth or seventh grade. Students enrolling in the program make a $250 commitment which is matched by a $250 contribution from the Kranzberg Family Foundation. The money is used to create a philanthropic fund in that student’s name.

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“All the monies will be invested by the Jewish Federation and managed by CAJE,” said B’nai Tzedek program Director Cindy Becker. “The intent is to provide the students with five percent interest every year to donate to any Jewish non-profit 501c3 organization in the world.”

Many congregations have chosen to participate in the new program by promoting it to their membership. Several of them have chosen to make a financial commitment as well helping students with a portion of the initial $250 investment said Becker.

The program was originated in Western Massachusetts by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. It was so successful they decided to franchise the program. When the request for proposals came from Kranzberg Family Foundation looking for programs to target the next generation, CAJE knew this was a great match. Rabbi Ari Vernon, former Director of Secondary Education at CAJE, spearheaded and wrote the grant.

“As Jews we understand the value of investing as a community,” CAJE Executive Director Sonia Dobinsky said. “It is in our blood: we are educated to give. We are very good about giving to the community at large, but it is also very important for us to financially support our own community.”

One key aspect of the program will be the two or three educational programs each year. Participants will be required to attend at least two of the three programs.

“Students will learn about the allocation process,” Becker said. “They will learn how to evaluate organizations, how to determine why to send to one organization and not another and how to raise funds.”

The money in the fund can be added to throughout the year by the student or by family and friends. Students must contribute at least $18 per year and make their annual allocation in order for the fund to stay active.

Many students already participate in a tzedakah project to prepare for their bar/bat mitzvah. The length and scope of these projects vary but most tend to be one-time events. The B’nai Tzedek program is the perfect complement to these projects and helps start these students on a lifetime of giving Jewishly.

Amy Abramson is very excited about the program and the experiences it will provide her daughter Haley who will be becoming a bat mitzvah at Congregation B’nai Amoona in August 2009. Their family has always had a strong commitment to tzedakah and volunteering. She sees the B’nai Tzedek program has a natural extension of that commitment.

“It empowers the kids to have a place to work with each other to make the world a better place,” Amy said. “It provides them with the opportunity to become – not just one time givers – but, lifelong philanthropists. Isn’t that what we want for our children?”

Haley is also excited about participating in the program.

“This program helps kids learn how to give with their own money and not just ask their parents for money to give,” Haley said. “I get to learn with friends and that will be fun.”

It isn’t just about giving money said Dobinsky. Students will learn about the many worthy Jewish organizations throughout the world. They will be able to find organizations to match their passions from saving animals, to the environment, camps and medical research.

“We are growing our children to be part of the next generation who will have to make those allocation choices in the future,” Dobinsky said. “We are growing our next generation of Jewish leaders who will have to be fiscally, morally and ethically responsible.”

Mary Ann Srenco, President of the Kranzberg Family Foundation, is impressed with the program’s impact on the next generation and its strong connection to Judaism.

“The program is about strengthening your Jewish identity and giving back to the community,” Srenco said.

Srenco is the daughter of Nancy and Ken Kranzberg. She said her parents have always been strong leaders in the Jewish community and set the example for her about the importance of philanthropy.

“My parents have always been generous and giving – even when it wasn’t easy to give,” Srenco said. “I grew up around giving.”

Ken Kranzberg is also very impressed with the program and its potential impact on the future for growing philanthropists in the Jewish community.

“The program is a great way for kids to learn to give,” Kranzberg said. “It will help develop a cadre of people who are going to be financially supportive of Jewish causes.”

Everyone has access to being a philanthropist said Kranzberg. Philanthropy is not just when you have tens of thousands of dollars.

“The amount of money doesn’t make a difference: it is important to learn to give,” Kranzberg said. “Whether it is of yourself or your purse – givers give.”

B’nai Tzedek is funded by a grant from the Kranzberg Family Foundation of the Jewish Federation and by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

To enroll in the B’nai Tzedek Youth Philanthropy Program or for more information contact Cindy Becker at 314-442-3776 or [email protected]