Local teen foundations raise big money for good causes

Impoverished children will drink clean water, abused women will be cared for, and mentally ill youths who have aged out of the foster-care system will gain life skills and guidance — thanks in part to 91 local teens who raised a record $220,000 for charity between the end of 2011 and April 2012.

The teens were participants in the 2011-12 Jewish Community Teen Found-ations program. They spent five months raising money, and then painstakingly deciding which charities to give grants to and how much money would go to each.

The grants were announced during four regional ceremonies held May 22-29 in Tiburon, Piedmont, Palo Alto and San Mateo.

Marin/San Francisco board members Eli Newbrun-Mintz and Aimee Moses present a $5,000 check to Michele Brown (right) of Oakland-based First Place for Youth. photo/courtesy of jcf

“The thing all the groups had in common was a drive and a passion for giving back to the community,” said Ariel Kurland, the adult coordinator who oversees the four regional foundations. “These boards [made up entirely of teens] were really motivated. They chose organizations that matched their mission statements.”

At the regional ceremonies, it was revealed that the North Peninsula group had raised $68,000, the South Peninsula group $66,000, Marin/San Francisco $49,000 and the East Bay $37,000. Recession or not, the teens brought in more than the previous high of $204,000 raised in 2007-08.

The program, in its ninth year, is sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and over the years, its 500-plus participants have generated more than $1 million for philanthropic causes.

One of this year’s participants, Rebecca Dollinger, said the program was a real eye-opener. “It showed me that I have to continue helping the world and doing tzedakah, and there will always be others to help me,” said Dollinger, a student at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.

During a November 2011 retreat, the teens wrote a mission statement that focused on helping at-risk youth. Then they started fundraising, mostly via face-to-face conversations with potential donors. “We’ve found that to be the most effective strategy,” Kurland said.

At the end of April, each of the four regions met and decided how to divvy up the money raised. In the end, the teens learned not only about tzedakah and fundraising, but also about leadership, consensus building and strategic planning.

“In the future I will know how to make tough decisions, especially involving money,” said Emily Perman, a student at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley. “Consensus is one of the most important skills to have in life.”

Many of the grantees were local. For example, the teens decided to give $10,000 to Youth UpRising of East Oakland to help with the creation of jobs and job-training programs. They also gave $10,000 to the Fred Finch Youth Center’s Coolidge Court Program in Oakland, which provides housing support services for young adults with mental health disabilities, many of whom grew up in the foster-care system.

The teens also gave more than $9,000 to help school some 700 Darfuri refugee children. A gift of $7,500 will help children of low-income families in Jaffa get computer training. Other grants will help impoverished children in Vietnam and survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“My biggest takeaway was seeing how a single, passionate person can really make a difference,” said Matt Friend, a student at Redwood High School in Larkspur.

To sign up for the 2012-13 program, visit www.jewishfed.org/teens.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.