This year, at a Rosh Hashanah celebration for Jewish Family and Children’s Service’s In-JOY, Inclusive Jewish Occasions Year-Round, there was a new group in attendance.
Along with the adults with disabilities and their friends and families, there was also a group of teens who served food and participated in the dancing and arts and crafts. These teens were more than just regular volunteers. They make up part of JFCS’ new junior board.
The junior board, which launched in September, gives high schoolers the opportunity to get involved with the governance of JFCS. The Rosh Hashanah event was the second event for this new program — after an orientation in September, where they discussed leadership and working with clients from a trauma-informed lens, among other topics — and it gave them an idea of some of the services JFCS provides for its clients.
“It’s a really interesting opportunity,” said Mia Schwartzberg, a member of the junior board. “I’m really looking forward to getting involved.”
After volunteering at the Rosh Hashanah event, the junior board met with Lisa Ney, assistant director of individual and family services at JFCS, to share their thoughts about how it went. The teens noted what they thought went well and provided suggestions for how it could be better in the future.
Ney said the teens suggested that there should be a more structured time for arts and crafts, which might help the attendees who are less extroverted. They were thoughtful about acceptance, she said, and their thinking was in-depth on how programs could be more inclusive.
“They really loved connecting with all kinds of people,” Ney said. “They really loved the fact how important it is to treat other people with respect and the people with disabilities are just like everybody else that you meet. They like seeing how they can impact people, just by sitting and talking with people. They felt like they really were making a difference.”
When JFCS built its Barbara and Harvey Brodsky Enrichment Center, the organization began to reimagine opportunities for community connections and community building. With that came the Teen Empowerment Program, which gave teenagers the chance to learn about volunteering and philanthropy.
Some of those involved in TEP had expressed an interest in getting involved from a governance perspective, which led JFCS to create the junior board.
Jah-lore Duquesne is a 10th grader on the junior board. He learned about the program through his aunt, who works for JFCS as a social worker.
“I’ve known what a board of directors was, but I’ve never gotten to experience working with them or really knowing who the people were or what kind of positions they held,” he said.
There are only 12 teens on the board. To get accepted, they completed an application, which included an essay section, and went through an interview process with JFCS President and CEO Paula Goldstein, Pia Eisenberg, senior vice president of community engagement, and Sharon Schwartz, the director of volunteer and donor engagement. JFCS wanted a diverse group of teens on the board, so they intentionally selected teens from an array of backgrounds.
“Everybody’s bringing their own particular lens to it,” Eisenberg said. “It’s a very diverse and rich conversation amongst the teens.”
Some have been supported by JFCS or have relatives who have been. They live in different areas. Some are Jewish; some are not.
“The diversity of the board is a really wonderful way for us to understand what the community is looking for from JFCS, what our clients are needing from JFCS, really representing those that we serve,” Eisenberg said.
The next activity planned for the junior board is in December, when they will be sorting clothes for Our Closet, JFCS’ clothing assistance program. In February, they plan to do something with the education and outreach program. In March, the teens will participate in a Passover seder with Holocaust survivors, and in May, they will join the board of directors for the closing meeting, where they will present their observations and suggestions.
“One of the most important goals is for us to help develop leaders, the future leaders of our community,” Eisenberg said. “My colleagues and I, we all left feeling very encouraged for the future based on the way the teens were taking in the information, the way that they were responding to the questions that we posed, the way they interacted with each other and just their understanding of community and the importance of impact.”
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