ALSJCC launches year-round program for area teenagers

When the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto officially launches its Teen Leadership Connection (TLC) this fall, it will be the first JCC in the country with a permanent year-round teen program.

Geared for South Peninsula teens in grades eight through 10, the TLC program, held during the school year, incorporates 30 weeks of Judaic study and leadership training with community service.

Then, during the summer, the department's focus will shift to GALIT (Guidance and Leadership in Training), the JCC's 10-year old summer program for teens. The JCC will also offer a summer program of community service titled Tikkun, Hebrew for repairing or healing.

"The teen department will be a role model for other JCCs, many of whom are close to doing the same thing," said Leonard Rubin, assistant executive director of the JCC Association in New York. "It makes a lot of sense."

Susan Protter, director of teen services at the ALSJCC, said: "For years, both parents and teens have been asking for this. Now we have created a place for teens that I, as an unaffiliated teenager growing up in New York, would have longed for." She will serve as head teacher and supervisor of the TLC program.

To help start the department, the Jewish Community Endowment Kohn Fund of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation has granted the JCC $5,000 in seed funding.

The decision to fund the department — which will raise funds on its own and charge participant fees — came as a result of a recommendation by the teen task force of the JCF's planning and allocations department.

"Although the South Peninsula has one of the fastest growing Jewish communities, until now there has been an unfortunate lack of programs for teens," said Hillsborough resident Susan Folkman, a member of the Kohn Fund's advisory committee.

According to Protter, TLC is already attracting attention throughout the community, including from numerous unaffiliated families. In addition, the new Reform Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto, plans to send its teens to TLC.

It was by joining Etz Chayim that Ellery Long, 15, discovered TLC. When he expressed interest in the program, his mother, Susan, crossed her fingers and kept quiet. Her silence worked. Now, Long is one of a number of teens enrolled in TLC.

Unlike Long, 14-year-old Michael Cohen was a familiar face around the ALSJCC before he enrolled in TLC. His mother, Fran, is the JCC's assistant director of early childhood development programs, and he had attended camp there for years. Most recently, he was an active member of Tikkun.

"Michael really grew up at the JCC," said his mother. "I used to shlep him with me to work. Now he comes because he wants to."

Cohen, who attends Stanford Middle School, said, "It's a great way to meet Jews in the community."

Also anxious to start TLC is 15-year-old Darra Adler of Palo Alto. It's an opportunity for Jewish teens to "hang out together while doing good things for the community," she said.

To help teens in the program get together with other Jewish youth in the area, Protter said TLC will be co-hosting regional events, such as Shabbatons, with local synagogues, youth groups and other JCCs.

Upon completing TLC, outgoing 10th-graders will be strongly encouraged to take a trip to Israel, offered in conjunction with the Israel Experience Project, a new program designed to increase teen travel to Israel.

At 15, Protter took her first and only trip to Israel as part of a youth orchestra. "Until I went to Israel I didn't know anything about being Jewish," she said. "I can still remember landing in Israel as `Hatikva' played. Without knowing why, I got out of the plane, touched the ground and kissed my hand. That was the beginning of my exploration into Judaism — and the reason I work with teens today."

The grant from the Kohn Fund to the new teen department was one of nine totaling $130,000 recently allocated to local Jewish organizations and projects. Other education and youth grants approved by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's board include:

*$5,000 to help maintain Brandeis Hillel Day School's English as a Second Language (ESL) program.

*$15,000 to the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education's special education program for children with disabilities who attend area synagogues.

*$15,000 to the BJE's Early Childhood Education Project, which provides teacher training, curriculum development and parent education to JCCs and synagogues.

*$5,000 to Hadassah for scholarships to enable 10 Russian computer science students to study at the Hadassah College of Technology in Jerusalem.

*$51,000 to the Jewish Vocational Service in support of the 1996 Kohn Summer Internship program, which recruits, selects and places 31 Bay Area college students in eight-week Jewish community internships.

*$14,000 to the National Council of Jewish Women. $10,000 will go to HATAF, a home instruction program for disadvantaged Israeli families; $4,000 will go toward a scholarship program for needy Jewish Bay Area university students.

*$12,500 in second-year matching seed funds to the Northern California Hillel Council's emigre outreach program.

*$7,500 in a reserve matching fund to help hire a special needs coordinator for the JCC of San Francisco's Open Hearts-Open Doors program, enabling children with disabilities to participate in its regular after-school activities.