Putting teens hands on the purse strings in the right way

Many parents don’t like to talk to their kids about money. They might re-examine that policy after reading our story on page 3 this week about a local program that puts teens in charge of raising and distributing thousands of dollars in charitable funding, a program that gives young people a real sense of social and financial responsibility.

The Jewish Community Teen Foundation, a 9-year-old program of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federa-tion and Endowment Fund, creates “boards” of teenagers in four Bay Area regions. The teens spend five months raising money — on their own — and then deciding, collectively, how to divvy up the funds between scores of worthy recipients.

This year, despite the lingering recession, the four regions together raised more money than ever before — $220,000 in all.

Much of that money was handed over to local agencies, to help create jobs in East Oakland and provide services to mentally disturbed youth, among other causes. Some went to Darfur to help refugee children; some to the Congo, to aid survivors of sexual violence; some to Israel, to support an after-school program for low-income kids in Jaffa.

That’s all great. And $220,000 is real money, that will help real people.

But the true significance of the program is what it does to the young Jews who take part in the four regional boards. It teaches them that they, too, have the power to change things, the power to make some people’s lives just a little bit better. It teaches them how to manage money, how to fundraise, how to evaluate proposals and how to work as a group to accomplish big goals — all crucial skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.

Here’s what one young participant said: “My biggest takeaway was seeing how a single, passionate person can really make a difference.”

What a terrific lesson.