Jewish Teen Funders Network at Camp Solomon Schechter!

Posted by on September 3, 2014

Buses arrived, cabins and chugs were assigned, friendships formed, laughs were heard, hard decisions were made, checks were cut and handed out, buses showed up and took our reluctant campers away, the gates were closed and now I can finally sit and reflect upon the magical whirlwind of life at camp! 

If you are like most campers you can relate to the feeling of butterflies in your stomach as you excitedly arrive on the first day of camp, or crying while hugging a friend from another city on the last day, but you might wonder “what is all that about hard decisions and checks?”.  Well, that is the journey of small group of our campers, thirteen to be precise, that we call the JTFNers. 

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The Jewish Teen Funders Network helps camps across North America partner with non-profit organizations in need of funding, both local and international, and also provides educational materials to help campers understand charity from a Jewish perspective as well as much of the funds that our campers get to distribute all over the world! It’s a great organization and our camp greatly benefited from running their program as one of our Gimmel chugs. 

It all starts with values

Our campers were hungry for depth, and often our conversations would veer drastically from the curriculum and go over schedule. We started with conversations about charity, studying Maimonides hierarchy of tzedakah (charity) and contrasting it with Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. The campers were not shy to share their views and it became apparent that we would need to devote a few sessions to the concept of consensus building. The hours we spent abstractly discussing how to form a consensus, and live with one you didn’t love, paid off hugely when it came time to make the hard financial decisions--but now I’m jumping way ahead.  

Reviewing grant proposals

As excited as our campers were about having $2,000 at their disposal to help people in need, they were very cautious about sending out into the world. They spent hours looking over eleven grant proposals, weighing their own values against the level of need they determined each organization needed. And, of course, they wanted to know exactly where every dollar was going within an organization.  

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Going out into the real world

Our education specialist Naomi Bennet, who facilitated the program, organized a day trip out into Olympia to visit four organizations in action. Our campers evaluated everything very critically, knowing that there was money behind their decisions, which would impact the lives of real individuals. In traditional Jewish fashion, they had many, many questions for each director! 

Making tough choices 

Ultimately, theory only goes so far, and it came time to put everything they had discussed into practice. It was interesting to me to see which values our campers were most passionate about. It’s tough to decide what to stand for when you believe in every cause, but can only choose a few. Often my view did not align with the consensus that the campers were forming, but, thankfully, Naomi was always there to make me keep my opinions to myself! A part of the success of this program is that the campers are completely in charge. We help facilitate, but we do not influence the decisions that they are working so hard on to reach together. 

In the end they chose to support three organizations, two local and one Israeli organization operating in Africa. Below are the three organizations along with their missions.  

Stonewall Youth is an organization that empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQQIA) youth to speak for themselves, educate their communities, and support each other. JTFN @ CSS decided to fund them in the amount of $504. 

SafePlace Freedom From Violence strives to put an end to sexual and domestic violence and advocates for personal and societal change through crisis intervention and education. JTFN @ CSS decided to fund them in the amount of $996. 

Innovation: Africa brings Israeli innovation to African villages. Founded in 2008, in six years Innovation: Africa has provided light, clean water, food and proper medical care to more than 675,000 people in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. JTFN @ CSS decided to fund them in the amount of $1000, and we have already received a message and photos from them letting us know that our money is going towards providing all of the books and shoes in the Ugandan villages of Buvundya and Kaliro for an entire year! 

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Thank you for reading this. If you are a camp administrator, please consider bringing this amazing program to your camp. If you are a camper, check it out next summer for one of your chugs! And if you are a parent of one of the amazing kids who participated in this program, please ask them about it. The main goal is to have these impactful experiences leave camp with them; you never know, you may have a future Bill or Melinda Gates growing up in your home. 

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Josh Niehaus

Assistant Director, Camp Solomon Schechter