Berkeley girls unique fundraiser suits her to a tea

In third grade, when her classmates were sucking on Capri Sun juice pouches, Ariella Neckritz was sipping pre-rain dragon well tea from China.

The Berkeley girl joined a tea club when she was just 8 years old. Inspired by a visit to an Oakland tea house, she gathered with others twice a month for five years to sip tea and learn about where and how the leaves were cultivated.

Now, at 15, she’s pouring her knowledge into a high tea fundraiser that seeks to empower Jewish women and raise money for the prevention of water-borne diseases and malaria.

The event takes place April 18 at Founders Grove, a venue for celebrations and meetings in Lafayette.

“Tea is something that is fascinating to me,” Neckritz said. “It’s less of a drink and more of a culture. It’s a way to connect with people.”

Neckritz is a member of the East Bay Jewish Community Teen Foundation, which aims to teach high school students about philanthropy. Members in all four Teen Foundation chapters in the Bay Area learn how to raise funds, review grant proposals and award money to nonprofits.

Since first being organized five years ago, the Teen Foundation has raised more than $652,000, donating all of it to Jewish and non-Jewish organizations locally and throughout the world.

The teens commit to the philanthropy effort for one year and are required to raise $100 (though they typically far exceed the minimum). Then the teens decide, collectively, how and where to donate the funds.

Ariella Neckritz

Neckritz, a freshman at Lick Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, thought about writing letters to friends and relatives asking for donations — the most common approach of teen foundation members.

But when she considered that two years ago she asked her friends and family to donate to her bat mitzvah community service project (her efforts amassed 400 teddy bears to donate to the Oakland Children’s Hospital and Research Center), she decided she wanted to broaden the pool of prospective donors.

“I wanted to reach out to the greater community and make an impact not only with those I know,” she said.

“So I thought that of everything I love, I love tea. I love to go out for high tea, and it’s always fun,” she added. “Then I thought about the dynamics. And who goes? Usually women. So I thought: I should do something to empower women and have a fun afternoon with tea, music, something with a punch.”

The afternoon’s speakers will provide that “punch.” They are Naomi Sheindel Seidman, a professor of Jewish culture at U.C. Berkeley, and Stephanie Muller, a board member of the nonprofit Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco.

“If males are interested, of course they can come,” said Neckritz. “But the panel is focused on women, and the question we’ll talk about is: Where do Israel, art, social action and religion fit in modern-day society?”

Neckritz and fellow foundation member Rachel Ozer-Bearson planned the event together. The girls arranged for the space to be donated, and Neckritz will donate tea from her own collection to serve at the event. Bakesale Betty’s in Oakland will donate scones and the Bread Garden in Berkeley will donate cookies.

All the money generated from the $20 tickets will go to the Teen Foundation, which in turn will donate it to an organization working to prevent water-borne diseases and malaria. The foundation is considering grant requests from several agencies, including American Jewish World Service, Be’chol Lashon and Global Youth Partnership for Africa.

Elana Isaacs, program director of the East Bay teen foundation, said Neckritz’s peers are inspired by her efforts.

“As you can imagine, because of this economy, it’s been a challenging year for fundraising,” Isaacs said. “People are frustrated or scared about asking people for money, and are getting more rejections than usual — that Ariella took the initiative to do fundraising that’s creative and resourceful is giving people a lot of motivation.”

High Tea Fundraiser for the prevention of water-borne diseases and malaria takes place 2:30 to 4 p.m. April 18 at Founders Grove, 84 Glenside Drive, Lafayette. $20. Information: [email protected].

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.