Seven years ago, with the help of many volunteers and the BJE, the Young Philanthropist program was born. This year, the Merage JCC hosted Young Philanthropists for the first time, and partnered with the Jewish Community Foundation and Jewish Federation & Family Services.
Young Philanthropists was designed to provide high school teens the incredible opportunity to work together to make a difference in our community. Together, the teens learn about our communal needs, as well as Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Throughout three sessions, the teens visit a spread of O.C. nonprofits, listen to inspirational speakers, and learn the meaning of giving.
As co-founder Nancy Chase describes, “Most teens have access to community service, but few have the opportunity to learn the hows and whys of philanthropy.” After the teens visit various agencies, they participate in lively discussions, and as a group, decide on how much money to donate to specific nonprofits.
Over the 7 years, 250 Orange County Jewish teens have participated and granted nearly $50,000 to our community’s nonprofits. Part of the money is specifically donated to Jewish organizations.
This year 33 teens participated in this program. As one of them, I bonded with Jewish teens and made new friends. We conducted visits to multiple organizations. In each visit, we learned about the organization’s purpose and mission. I also learned what goes into running a nonprofit and how I can make a difference.
One of the nonprofits we visited, WisePlace, a nonprofit in Santa Ana, is dedicated to helping women receive basic needs such as housing, clothing, physical and emotional nourishment, as well as vocational and life skills training. WISEPlace is one of the few places that unaccompanied homeless women (exclusively) can go to and start their lives over. I was deeply touched by everything that they have done. A WisePlace board member spoke to our teens, discussing her history of homelessness and addiction. She painted a genuine, hard picture of her climb to a better life. She described the impact of the organization on individuals. Also, to support our teens, she donated $100 of her own money to Young Philanthropists, because now she has gotten a hold of her financials. I was greatly impressed and hope that one day I can achieve as much as she has.
Maya Arenson is a contributing writer to Kiddish magazine.