Teen philanthropy programs sprout in Connecticut
By Tracy Sullivan
Dec 24, 2004 - B'nai Tzedek is the teen philanthropy program that began in 1997 in Western Massachusetts and is sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Western Massachusetts. A teen, along with both foundations, contributes money to establish a B'nai Tzedek Fund. Each year, B'nai Tzedek Funds holders can donate a percentage of the balance of their fund to a Jewish organization of their choosing.
"We wanted to help engage Jewish teens in Jewish life in a way that allows them to feel empowered and connected to their Jewish community," K'vod Wieder, director of the B'nai Tzedek Teen Philanthropy program explained in an interview with the Jewish Ledger earlier this year, "and we wanted to redefine for young people what it means to be a philanthropist."
The Harold Grinpoon Foundation has been marketing and sharing the B'nai Tzedek program with Jewish communities throughout the country with the hopes that they will set up similar teen philanthropy programs.
Twenty-six Jewish communities have instituted similar programs, including Greater Stamford and Greater New Haven in Connecticut. The Greenwich Jewish community is expected to kick off its teen philanthropy program in April.
The Build-A-Tzedakah Fund at the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven was established in 1993, and according to a Jewish Ledger article, it was spearheaded by the late Fenmore Seton.
Approximately 100 teens have established a Build-A-Tzedakah Fund, said Dennis Magid, director of the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven.
To start a Build-A-Tzedakah fund, a bar or bat mitzvah student and/or family contributes $600, and an anonymous donor contributes $400 to create a fund totaling $1,000, which is then invested to earn additional money. Plus, the teen and his/her family members can make additional contributions to celebrate other special occasions. Magid said one Build-A-Tzedakah Fund owner has more than $13,000 in his fund, and recently made a donation to a nonprofit organization as a Chanukah gift to his father.
A total of 5.5 percent of the fund can be spent each year. For example, if a teen donor has $1,000, in his/her fund, the donor can donate $55 to any nonprofit organization, although the foundation encourages giving to local Jewish organizations.
In Stamford, the program is called Teen Tzedakah, and it was established in September 2003 as a partnership between the Jewish Community Endowment Foundation, the Jewish Community Center in Stamford, and Stamford area synagogues and havurot.
The Stamford program is intended for youngsters ages 11-14. To create the tzedakah fund, the youngster provides $360, and Stamford area donors —- Melody and Claude Bernstein as well as two anonymous donors — provide $360 through a matching grant made possible by the Jewish Community Endowment Foundation. As a result, a $720 tzedakah fund named by the teen will be established from which he/she can make charitable contributions to non-profit organizations of interested to them. Up to 20 percent of the fund can be donated each year, and teens can continue contributing as much money as they wish into their Teen Tzedakah fund.
So far, 41 teens have established Teen Tzedakah funds. Teen Tzedakah has established a programmatic component, which brings the Tzedakah participants together several times a year to learn about various charities and to participate in community service projects. This year, teens helped organize a charity basketball tournament benefiting the American Heart Association, and created goodie baskets to send to soldiers in Israel and American soldiers in Iraq, among other mitzvah projects.
For more information about the Teen Tzedakah Program in Greater Stamford, call the Jewish Community Endowment Foundation at (203) 321-1380.
For more information about Build-A-Tzedakah Fund in Great New Haven, call the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven at (203) 387-2424 ext. 304 or ext. 382, or visit www.newhavenjewishfoundation.org.
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