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Teens use their ‘Voices’ to help community grow

Learning by doing... good

Thanks to a dedicated group of teens studying philanthropy with JUF, over $52,000 in grants have made their way to ten Jewish organizations in the Chicago area. 

Over the last year, teens in two programs - Voices 101, which includes first-time participants from 9th through 12th grade, and Voices Alumni, for previous participants in 10th through 12th grade - met over Zoom to learn about philanthropy and grant writing. They assessed grant proposals from 33 organizations, conducted virtual site visits, and used Jewish values to choose where to allocate the money. 

"I am so grateful for having this experience," said Kayla Kupietzky, who joined Voices 101 after spending two summers volunteering with TOV Teens. "This past year...lived up to all of my expectations; I learned about wonderful organizations, formed relationships with other high school students, and was taught how to read proposals and allocate money. Throughout the program, there was a big emphasis on Jewish values and how they helped guide our decisions." 

Every month, Kupietzky and her fellow participants met for a two-hour call where they dove into different topics, including using "Jewish values to guide giving, community needs research, how to read a budget critically and strategically, grant reading, proposal reading, and consensus [building]," said Genna Kahn, Program Director of Teen Volunteering and Philanthropy at JUF and Voices program officer. 

This year's Voices 101 cohort focused on four issue areas - hunger and food access, environment and sustainability, civil rights and anti-racism, and mental health. The Voices Alumni group divided into three committees - environment and sustainability, civil rights and anti-racism, and combating antisemitism.  

Every participant pledged a certain amount of money to either donate themselves or solicit from friends and family, which was supplemented by seed money from a donor and a social media campaign from Voices Alumni. 

Once the grant applications started rolling in, the teens learned how to use Jewish values like chesed (lovingkindness) and tikkun olam (repairing the world) to prioritize which organizations they should ask for virtual site visits, where they asked thoughtful and challenging questions to inform their final decisions. 

Kupietzky found the allocations process to be the most impactful part of the year. "We had learned so much and had become so close with our peers that finally coming together to decide where our money would go was such an incredible experience. Having all of our hard work come full circle was absolutely amazing!" 

The Voices 101 group made a total of $34,714 in grants divided among: Children's Home and Aid; the Dina and Eli Field EZRA Multi Service Center; JCFS Response for Teens; Jewish Council on Urban Affairs; the Lakeview Pantry; No Shame on U; Repair the World, and JUF. The teens in Voices Alumni allocated $17,521 to: Hand in Hand; the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center; Jewish Council on Urban Affairs; and JUF. 

Kahn is incredibly proud of how this year's cohort stepped up in the virtual space. "It was a really unique experience for me to watch super-passionate and amazing teens go through this process virtually together and navigate the year that COVID has given us.... I'm very proud of the work they put in and excited to watch the program continue to grow!" 


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