Building a foundation

Give a bunch of teens $25,000 and remarkable things can happen.

That’s exactly what Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation has been doing each year for the past decade. The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago project puts high school students in full control of their own charitable foundation, teaching them the ins and outs of philanthropy and opening their eyes to needs they never imagined, all while confronting them with the challenges that build leaders.

The latest cohorts just allocated $53,114 in grants to local and international causes, bringing the total to more than $336,000 and nearly 250 teen funders over the past 10 years.

“Through our grants, we helped hundreds of people in need, and helped promote causes that will have a huge impact in Chicago and around the world,” said Quincy Hirt, a freshman at the city’s Whitney M. Young Magnet High School. “Voices helped me see how much of a difference a 15-year-old kid can really make.”

“This accomplishment is not only remarkable for a group of Jewish philanthropists at any age,” said Stephanie Goldfarb, Senior Associate of Youth Initiatives at JUF, “but it also signifies our community’s increasing commitment to pluralistic teen engagement, and investment in our future leaders. I could not be more proud. Mark my words, you will be seeing some of these teens in JUF board rooms in the coming years!”

The Voices program is made up of two independent foundations. Through the Voices 101 Foundation, a group of 25 high school students from around the Chicago area learn the nitty gritty of grant making. They begin with $25,000 in seed money – an annual gift from an anonymous JUF donor – and raise additional funds throughout the year. Then, as a team, they conduct community needs research, perform due diligence, write grant guidelines and Requests for Proposals, take part in site visits, and learn to advocate, negotiate and collaborate to make strategic allocations at the completion of the program year.

The following year, the teens have the option to participate in the Voices Alumni Foundation, where they translate what they’ve learned into more specialized and focused philanthropic work – including raising every dollar they allocate, and mentoring the Voices 101 teens.

“This program has taught me all the nuts and bolts about grant giving,” said Mari Hattenbach, a junior at Deerfield High School. “Before this program, I can't say that I knew much about the process of funding an organization, but now, I feel like a pro!”

Even as adults, alums of the program credit Voices with shaping their career paths and helping them develop a lifelong commitment to philanthropy.

“Ten years later, my Voices experience resonates with me,” said Xani Pollakoff, now 26, who participated in the first cohort of Voices when she was a student at Highland Park High School. “I just finished my third year as a facilitator for a teen philanthropy program through the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Voices helped guide my Jewish path and my impact on our greater community.”

A full list of this year’s grantees is below:


Voices 101 Foundation 2014 Grants (Total: $31,749)


$5,974 to Keshet for the Giving Adults Daily Opportunities for Living Healthy Lifestyles (GADOL) Program:

Keshet offers a wide range of educational, vocational and recreational services for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The Voices grant will support a healthy living program for adults over the age of 22.

$8,000 to Tel Aviv Cinematheque for The Cinema as an Agent of Change Program:

The Tel Aviv Cinematheque increases awareness of cinema as an art among the general public. The Voices award will support an educational program for 15 Arab and 15 Jewish Israeli teenagers to work together to create a film promoting the values of tolerance, coexistence and mutual understanding.

$5,615 to Maot Chitim for the Holiday Food Delivery Program:

Maot Chitim delivers close to 5,000 food boxes (serving nearly 12,000 people) to needy Chicago-area Jews just before the High Holidays and Passover. Support from Voices will provide chicken for 1,000 food packages or eggs for 2,500 packages.

$5,060 to the Chicago Chesed Fund for the Expansion of Clothing Basics for Low-Income Children Program:

The Chicago Chesed Fund provides immediate assistance to Jewish families in need throughout metropolitan Chicago. Funding from Voices will help the organization provide critical items such as undergarments, socks and shoes for hundreds of local children.

$6,100 to the EZRA Multi-Service Center for the JUF Uptown Café and Food Pantry Program:

EZRA meets the needs of economically disadvantaged individuals living on the north side of Chicago. It is the only Jewish social service agency in the Uptown neighborhood, and aims to restore the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families of all faiths living below or at the margins of poverty. Support from Voices will provide around 300 pounds of frozen and canned food and around 400 hot kosher meals for clients of the Uptown Café.

$1,000 to the Jewish United Fund Annual Campaign:

The Jewish United Fund’s Annual Campaign focuses on helping people in need, rescuing people in danger, and keeping Jewish life strong. Voices dollars will go to JUF programs that care for 300,000 Chicagoans of all faiths, and 2 million Jews in Israel and around the world.

Voices Alumni Foundation 2014 Grants (Total: $21,365)

$3,806 to Jewish Child & Family Services for the JCFS Group Respite Program:

JCFS provides help, healing and caring services infused with Jewish values to Chicago’s diverse community. Support from the Voices Alumni Foundation will provide respite services to families caring for members with special needs.

$5,171 to Hand in Hand for the Scholarships for Jewish and Arab Students in Jerusalem Program:

Hand in Hand builds coexistence and partnership between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel through the creation of integrated, bilingual schools. Voices support will provide scholarships to many students who otherwise would be unable to attend.

$4,700 to Temple Sholom for Eco Chavura’s Composting Program:

Temple Sholom is a leading center for Reform Jews who seek to develop and enhance their Jewish identity through worship, education, cultural heritage, social interaction, concern for the state of Israel, and community involvement. Voices funding will help the temple pilot a new composting program aimed at reducing waste and raising environmental awareness.

$6,688 to Jewish Vocational Services for the Ready…Set…WORK Program:

JVS improves life through employment and productivity for Jews living in Chicago. Voices funding will allow five chronically ill youth from Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital to explore their career aspirations and enjoy a paid work experience in a career path that meets their interests and abilities.  

$1,000 to the Jewish United Fund Annual Campaign:

The Jewish United Fund’s Annual Campaign focuses on helping people in need, rescuing people in danger, and keeping Jewish life strong. Voices dollars will go to JUF programs that care for 300,000 Chicagoans of all faiths, and 2 million Jews in Israel and around the world.

For more information about the Voices program, please visit or contact Stephanie Goldfarb at 312-444-2802 or

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