Next generation of change- makers rewrites family legacies

Teenagers like to do their own thing — and not just when it comes to choosing music and friends. They also want a say in deciding how to give back, and they often embrace different charitable causes than their parents and grandparents.

This is a dynamic the S.F.–based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund recognizes and understands. “Kids and grandkids aren’t always interested in the same philanthropies,” said Mark Reisbaum, the organization’s chief endowment officer. “We help families in navigating” how to articulate “the mission of their family’s philanthropy.”

Figuring out how to bridge the generational gap will be one of the issues addressed as part of “Engaging the Next Generation in Philanthropy,” a workshop at the JCF’s Day of Philanthropy on Nov. 16.

“It’s often the young people propelling the family,” said Sue Schwartzman, director of youth philanthropy and session co-leader. “This is the ‘one-touch generation.’ They have been told they will be less successful. They don’t accept the world as it is. They are going to be the change-makers. They know it and they’re on it. It’s coming from the bottom up.”

Sam Pritzker (second from right) with Jewish Community Teen Foundation friends (from left) Sarah Moses, Hanna Stern and Bobby Lehmann

Amy Rabbino, director of philanthropic services who is leading the workshop with Schwartzman, said philanthropy has changed. “People used to give by bequest. Now, they live longer and want to do more giving while they are living. They want to be productively engaged with their family for the greater good.”

She advises families “not to assume osmosis in communicating your Jewish family history, values and philanthropic traditions. Articulating legacy has intrinsic value.” At the same time, “each generation needs an authentic role, a ‘voice and choice’ in decision-making,” Rabbino said.

Those who attend the workshop will hear directly from the younger generation. Alumni of the federation’s Jewish Community Teen Foundation will describe their experiences as participants in this highly selective, yearlong  philanthropic study program.

Teens chosen for each of the four local foundations — North Peninsula, South Peninsula, Marin/San Francisco and East Bay (run by the Jewish Federation of the East Bay) — learn how to run their own nonprofit foundations and become strategic grant-makers. They work with their peers to reach consensus on a cause or causes, research the potential charities involved and raise and distribute funds.

Sam Pritzker, 18, is in his third year with the Marin/San Francisco Jewish Teen Foundation, the last two in a leadership role. He is also a founding member of the foundation’s alumni council.

Alyssa Breetwor and mom Cheryl Breetwor-Evans at breast cancer fundraiser

“Consensus is integral to the whole thing,” said Pritzker, a senior at Marin Academy who lives in San Francisco. “One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is to be OK with not having your opinion adopted.

“For me, my parents are into philanthropy and so are my brothers,” said Pritzker. His parents, John and Lisa Pritzker, support Jewish causes locally, nationally and internationally, with a focus on youth education and health and women’s issues.

“I’ve learned it’s important to do your research. Listening is really important across generations — and maybe meeting each other halfway.”

For Alyssa Breetwor, 21 and a senior at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., the teen program helped change her view of the world. “It was the most Jewish I had ever been. It made me feel part of the community.

“I can easily say that none of my friends understands the world of nonprofits,” the Mountain View High School graduate said. “It puts you a step above everyone else. It really makes me feel like an adult.”

Her family, she said, had always dedicated one day of Chanukah “to coming together and deciding where we want to donate.”

Before she was involved in the teen foundation on the South Peninsula, her mother, Cheryl Breetwor-Evans, educated her and her brother (who also participated in the program) on the value of Jewish giving. Her mother also served on the teen foundation’s advisory board. “Now it’s nice to be a part of the discussion,” Breetwor said. “It’s a topic that comes up frequently.”

“Generational ‘personalities’ — experience, expectations and style — are important to understand when working intergenerationally,” said Rabbino. “It’s sometimes good for the younger generation to have a separate learning experience where they can build their own sense of self,” she added. “It does take a fair amount of work for everyone to join at the philanthropic table.”