Sixteen-year-old Ben Stein acknowledges that he may not be able to change the world right at this moment. However, he clearly intends to effect change within his own community through his efforts to create a peer group to dispel racism.
Stein, a Center City resident and junior at Friends Central School, is one of 21 Philadelphia area 11th- and 12th-graders participating in the Satell Teen Fellowship for Leadership and Social Activism.
"The program has been amazing and eye-opening," reflected Stein, referring to the leadership, social-action and service experiences. "We have met with POIs (persons of influence). They are all amazing people who have changed the world, and have advised us to 'stick to what you believe.' "
Stein has been inspired by the POIs' stories about what motivated them to make a difference.
Funded through a five-year grant, the program is now in its second year. This select program for the best and brightest high school students in their junior and senior years, is a partnership among the Satell Family Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Service Learning and Leadership Institute of the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College.
Ira M. Schwartz, Federation president and CEO, expressed his thanks to the Satell Family Foundation and Gratz College for partnering with Federation on this project. "This program has become a 'best practices' effort to inspire Jewish teenagers to become the future leaders of our Jewish community," he said.
According to Beth Margolis Rupp, the director of the Satell Teen Fellowship and the Service Learning and Leadership Institute of the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College, these young people come from diverse religious, socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds and have a wide variety of skills, interests and perspectives. Judaism and leadership is their shared connection, she explained adding "All have either demonstrated leadership abilities or been identified as possessing such traits."
The teens typically meet twice a month, often on Sundays, participating in a host of activities that include trips, workshops and discussions. They write articles, engage in public speaking and travel to such destinations as Washington, D.C.; Harrisburg, Pa.; and to Philadelphia attractions like the Walnut Street Theatre, the National Liberty Museum and the Philadelphia Union League.
"We give these young adults a sense of mission and vision for the year, and open doors that enable them to determine what it means to be a leader," explained Margolis Rupp.
"We introduce them to local and national notables, both Jews and non-Jews. These leaders become models for to them," she continued. "We provide them with opportunities to practice leadership and empower their own vision for leadership in our community and Israel."
Topics of Interest
The program requires each participant to develop a commitment statement to carry out. The topic must be one that they are passionate about, such as Stein's plan to break down the barriers of racism.
Ellie Brown's passion is suicide prevention. The 17-year-old junior at B. Reed Henderson High School in West Chester lost a close friend to suicide last fall, and vowed she'd do something to help prevent other young people from taking their lives. Brown's commitment statement evolved into a project involving the creation of educational materials to be placed in the school's guidance office. "I am going to create two pamphlets, one will be geared toward identifying warning signs and how to ask for help, the other towards instilling positive reinforcement in teens about the value of their lives," she said.
A highly accomplished young woman, Brown serves as captain of her field-hockey team, and is a winner of a regional competition with Future Business Leaders of America. In the months following her friend's death, the teen also found the time to take a lead role in founding a school bereavement group.
While some might find it intimidating to be one of the few Jewish students in a school that's predominantly Christian, Brown sees this as an educational opportunity. "I have always had a strong Jewish identity," she said, adding that "I frequently find myself teaching others about the Jewish people and the importance of Israel. The fellowship is nurturing my ability to become a leader, and it's definitely for those who want to make a ripple in the pond. I am really excited about our culminating 10-day trip to Israel next month."
Ed Satell, CEO of Progressive Business Publications, who funds 90 percent of the fellowship via his family foundation, commented on the program he inspired, "It is designed for our brightest and our best. We wanted to develop a special program to give these teens leadership and social-action experiences that would enable them to find their own voices."
He continued: "These bright kids have become very excited about their Jewish heritage. They have become imbued with their own tradition."
He believes that "the fellowship has been successful on multiple levels -- it has opened their eyes, given them exposure and insight into great leaders and thinkers, and provided a peer-development aspect of great value -- the sharing of ideas."
"The Satell Teen Fellowship program addresses key Federation and community priorities," added Schwartz, saying that "it effectively engages students in Jewish life and learning and promotes social action, building a solid foundation for our children to become more engaged and involved in our community."
Becky Margolies, an 18-year-old student at Stern Hebrew High School finds the program far different from anything else she has ever done before.
Margolies, who leads a Northeast Philadelphia Zionist youth group, Bnei Akiva, says she feels a deep connection to the teens. She particularly enjoyed a recent Sunday activity where they participated in J-Serve -- a national day of youth service -- by cleaning up a section of Fairmount Park. Margolies, who is Orthodox, has found it "eye-opening" and gratifying to meet other Jewish teens who care about Israel and Judaism.
Ari Goldberg, executive director of the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College, said that the program emphasizes connecting young people to their communities.
"We have been able to reach out to a broader population of teens and provide them with the highest level of leadership development experiences," he explained. "In a short time, they are already giving so much back."
One example is through the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in January, where teens served as mentors to other youth volunteers. They also took an active role at Federation's annual Super Sunday.
Margolis Rupp added that the group discusses pertinent topics such as war and its impact on the community: "We have talked about World War II, the Iraq war and the Lebanon war. The teens discuss the challenges facing Israeli society and their youth."
To tie it all together, the itinerary for their trip to Israel will include meetings with journalists, leaders and their teen counterparts in Netivot-Sedot Negev, Federation's Partnership 2000 community.
Interested teenagers must complete an application process to be accepted into the program. Applications are being accepted for fall 2007. To request one or to learn more about the program, call Beth Margolis Rupp at 215-635-7300, Ext. 128; send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org ; or visit: www.gratz.edu/satell .