Being in Charge, Being the Difference: First-of-its-Kind Program Empowers Teens to Transform the Community

This fall the Jewish Federation is launching its Teen Giving Project, which will bring together a diverse group of ninth- and 10th-graders from throughout Greater Philadelphia to raise and allocate funds to solve real community challenges.

When it comes to opportunities for Jewish engagement, the focus is often on children, families, young adults and older adults. A group that has historically not enjoyed as rich a selection of Jewish-themed programming, yet has a tremendous need for immersive Jewish experiences, is teens. The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia recently increased its efforts to engage local teens more fully in Jewish life. “Teens are under tremendous academic and social stress,” said Barbara Hirsh, director, Jewish life and learning, at the Jewish Federation. “Jewish life and traditions can offer a haven and good perspective for teens during this extremely critical developmental period in their lives. They can also help them explore who they are as people, especially in relation to their ethnic and gender identities, which will ideally help them become much more comfortable in conversations with their peers.”
This fall the Jewish Federation is launching its Teen Giving Project, which will bring together a diverse group of ninth- and 10th-graders from throughout Greater Philadelphia to raise and allocate funds to solve real community challenges. Together the participants will research issues and organizations, raise funds, and then make grants to the organizations they choose to support.
“Teens are looking for something meaningful,” continued Hirsh. “If we can connect them to Jewish life in truly meaningful ways, like this program will, and help them map their own path, they will more likely be committed to Jewish life into adulthood.”
The Teen Giving Project will meet on approximately eight Sundays between November 2016 and May 2017. Ninth- and 10th-graders for the 2016-17 school year are welcome to apply, or parents and teachers can nominate students. Applications are being accepted now through Oct. 7.
Project participants will:
  • Reside in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery or Philadelphia county
  • Demonstrate passion for community involvement and social justice
  • Be mature, articulate and authentic
  • Stand out among their peers as leaders
  • Share their experiences with their classes, youth groups and congregations and the broader Jewish community
  • Take responsibility for raising and distributing funds
  • Attend all meetings and events
  • Fulfill the $360 program fee, a portion of which will be allocated as part of the grant process; participants can apply for full or partial scholarships
Trisha Swed, teen philanthropy program manager, is charged with launching and leading the program. “The Teen Giving Project will transform participants’ lives by empowering them, and by teaching them life skills like creating a budget that will translate into many things they need to know for college and beyond,” she said. “I think the most exciting part is that we will create a positive space for teens to explore what matters to them, which will create a stronger teen voice throughout the community.”
Program objectives include:
  • Teaching teens the importance of giving and why it is a Jewish value
  • Exposing teens to communal needs, both Jewish and non-Jewish
  • Developing young community leaders who feel invested in their community
  • Creating lifelong Jewish engagement among the teens
  • Connecting students to additional Jewish resources in the community
  • Empowering students to “act Jewishly and give globally”
  • Connecting teens to one another to broaden their networks
Ensuring a diverse cohort of students is key to the success of the program so that they can learn about others’ perspectives and, according to Swed, “grow into adults who respect and celebrate diversity.”
Swed notes that the project is different from any other in the area. “There currently aren’t a lot of spaces and resources that help teens amplify their voices. The Teen Giving Project will let them act on what they are most excited about.”
Warren Hoffman, the Jewish Federation’s associate director of community programming, strongly encourages local teens to apply, and parents and teachers to nominate students. “The Teen Giving Project is amazing because it allows the teens to have a hands-on impactful experience where they themselves can change the world by both fundraising and allocating funds,” he said. To complete an application or nomination form, please visit
The Jewish Federation’s Teen Giving Project, an initiative of the Foundation Board Incubator, is a project of the Jewish Teen Funders Network, generously funded by Laura Lauder and the Maimonides Fund. For more information contact Trisha Swed at 215-832-0516 or 


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