Bay Area teens raise $204,000 for agencies around the globe

A group of local Jewish teenagers this year raised nearly $204,000, donating it to organizations throughout the United States and Israel and around the world.

The Jewish Community Teen Foundation — composed of five Bay Area chapters with 100 total members — concluded its epic fundraising season June 8 with a ceremony at which the teens gave the money to 35 organizations.

“It’s just amazing to see kids so young accomplishing stuff like this,” said Aaron Breetwor, a freshman at Mountain View High School and teen foundation member.

The foundations meet in Marin, San Francisco and the East Bay; two groups are based on the Peninsula. The five-year-old program is a partnership between the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation of the Greater East Bay.

The teens raised money mostly through letter-writing, asking for donations from their relatives, friends, co-workers and teachers. Then, like many charitable foundations, the group announced grants were available, news that inspired more than 150 organizations to apply for funding.

But Breetwor found it “very impersonal to write letters to people asking for money. I thought it would be more fun to make a connection with the donors I was asking money from.”

Since Breetwor plays the tenor saxophone, he organized a jazz concert at his home. He invited all his parents’ friends, asked for a suggested donation of $75 and played a dozen jazz standards, with his friends on bass, drums and piano.

By the end of the evening, the 15-year-old had “raised $11,000. It was pretty cool.”

Participants spend a year as foundation members. Each group collectively crafts a mission statement that dictates how they want to donate the money they raise.

Peninsula groups focused on “basic medical needs for vulnerable populations,” while the East Bay group focused on education. San Francisco gave to causes promoting “second chances,” and the Marin teens directed their funds to agencies supporting health and medicine in poor neighborhoods and countries.

Those decisions, however, were not easy, said Sue Shwartzman, director of youth philanthropy for the Endowment Fund.

“They have to ask themselves: Do we help Jews locally or do we help people in Thailand? Do we give money to sustain or to build? To feed or to clothe? These are hard questions for anybody, even adults,” Shwartzman said. “So they go back to Jewish text, and use the Midrash and Pirkei Avot to help guide them.”

Two foundation chapters each awarded a grant (totaling $19,000) to PlayPumps International, a nonprofit that builds merry-go-round water pumps powered by children, providing clean drinking water to underserved communities in Africa. American Jewish World Service received two grants (also totaling $19,000) for projects in Africa.

Breetwor was particularly excited about one AJWS grant, for the Ruchika Project, which creates school programs at train stations in India, where impoverished children beg on platforms.

Numerous grants went to Israeli agencies too, supporting such causes as caring for rare medicinal plants in the Arava Valley, teaching English to children with learning disabilities, preventing hunger in poor Israeli neighborhoods and providing vocational training to immigrants and high school dropouts.

But the teens also awarded grants to agencies in their own backyard — such as Jewish Family and Children’s Services and the I Have a Dream Foundation in East Oakland, which works with a group of children from third grade through their graduation.

“Most of these kids come to us not knowing about needs beyond their own,” Shwartzman said. “They go from a place of ignorance, to a place of ‘Oh my God, there’s so much I need to help with.’ We hope this plants a seed.”

For a complete list of grant recipients, visit

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.