JUF Right Start ‘2’ to offer vouchers for Jewish preschool

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To expose children to the world of Jewish learning, values, and community in early childhood education, the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago is launching JUF Right Start "2," which offers a two-day-a-week gift voucher for young families toward the tuition of a child's enrollment in a participating Chicago area Jewish early childhood program.

This project stems from JUF Right Start, a program dedicated to making Jewish early childhood education more accessible and affordable for parents. Introduced in March 2008, JUF Right Start gives gifts of up to $1,000 per family for a child to attend a Jewish preschool or daycare without a parent or caregiver.

To receive the JUF Right Start "2" voucher, one member of the family needs to identify as Jewish. The gift may be redeemed once, for one child per family. The child must be the first sibling to attend a Jewish daycare or preschool and cannot have previously been enrolled in a Jewish early childhood program. Additionally, the child need be enrolled in a program affiliated with the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago, the Associated Talmud Torahs, the Community Foundation for Jewish Education, or the Board of Jewish Education. Nearly all Jewish preschools and daycares fall under one of these affiliates.

Voucher amounts are $1,000 for a child who attends Jewish preschool or daycare five days a week, $750 for four days, $500 for three, and now, with the newly instituted JUF Right Start "2" rendered effective this fall, $250 for two days a week.

JUF Right Start "2" arises from concern voiced by families about the absence of a gift voucher for two-day-a-week Jewish preschool programs. With the addition of these vouchers, over 300 families are expected to be reached this year-a substantial improvement from the 106 who received gifts in 2008. Though its centerpiece is the voucher, the true mission of Right Start "2" lies in engaging more young families in Chicago's Jewish community.

"Gift recipients feel they are becoming connected to other families like themselves and for some, these relationships will last long beyond the preschool experience," said Roberta Wexler, coordinator of JUF Right Start and JUF Right Start "2." "As a result of the program, families are motivated to become more involved Jewishly. To me, this is the best part."

A JUF Right Start phone survey was conducted in 2010 to reach out to past voucher recipients and get a sense of where these families were in their Jewish lives after participating in the program. Families were highly complementary in their responses. "The preschool experience has moved us in a wonderful direction and we value the friendships we've made as a result," said one parent. The survey itself triggered positive feedback. "This call is like a personal reminder to think about the Jewish piece in our lives and how important it is," a parent said.

Some families participating in JUF Right Start have also acknowledged some changes in their behavior such as increased awareness of Jewish holidays, weekly observance of Shabbat, involvement in synagogue, and using Hebrew at home. Others would like to take their families to Israel when the children get older.  These are just some of the ways young families are becoming influenced as a result of their child's participation in the program. The goal JUF Right Start "2" is to continue this trend.

To learn more about JUF Right Start "2", visit  juf.org/rightstart or call Roberta Wexler at (312) 357-4513.

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