Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

5 Lessons I Learned as a Teen Engagement Specialist

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Over the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of working as a Teen Engagement Specialist at Springboard. I came to work every day and connected teens to empowering and interesting experiences, staffed interactive programs all around the world, and brainstormed with some of the brightest, most passionate youth professionals and experiential educators. As a teen, Jewish youth programming was what inspired me to learn about social justice and connected me with some of my closest friends. Most importantly, Jewish youth programming provided me with the leadership skills and confidence to be the strong, passionate, Jewish woman that I am today. I have loved spending the last two years giving back to a community that has given me so much, and I will never forget how lucky I am to have worked with this community of incredible teens, parents, and professionals.  Since it’s been a busy two years of learning and growing, I thought I would leave you all with 5 lessons that I’ve learned through my time working as a Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist. 

Springboard Team

Tamara and Friends

  1. Communities are stronger when they work together. 

Whether it has been collaborating with other youth professionals at professional development seminars or seeing organizations team up to create School Break programs, I have witnessed how our Jewish teen community is stronger when we come together. Every individual youth group, summer camp, teen program, and travel experience is impactful, but individuals become even stronger when working as a collective. 

  1. Teens are the most powerful force for change. 

I've always known that teens have the drive and passion to improve the world but seeing it up close has been absolutely incredible. Within the last two years, I’ve seen teens in this community lead rallies, speak one-on-one with political leaders, create social media awareness campaigns, and stand up for the values that they so strongly believe. Seeing these teens speak truth to power and channel their Jewish values to create a more just world has inspired me, and others in the community, to do the same.  

  1. Being a “professional Jew” is a lot harder than it looks. 

I think a common misconception people have is that being a Jewish youth professional is all about spending time at summer camp, dressing up in silly costumes at programs, and eating lots of good food at Shabbatons. And, while they’re not wrong, I’ve come to learn that there is so much hard work and heart that is poured into this work to make it what it is. The colleagues I’ve gotten to work with amaze me with their commitment to professional and leadership development. The amount I’ve learned from my Springboard colleagues, and others, has made me a better communicator, leader, and facilitator.  

  1. Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. 

There is a certain “type” we usually think of when we think of leaders: loud, extroverted, and totally confident. Working with teens, youth professionals, and parents across the community, each with different personalities, interests, and approaches, has taught me that there are limitless ways to be a leader. The Jewish teen community is an incredible place for teens to gain a sense of identity— whether it be as a recognized leader in their youth group or an active participant—and each is equally as empowering and valued. Every person I’ve worked with has different leadership skills and qualities that are unique to them, and I’ve loved watching those skills and qualities develop and grow.  

  1. A little creativity goes a long way. 

Working for a brand-new initiative and helping to build it from the ground up has gotten me to think more creatively than ever before. When it came to developing 18 Under 18: A Celebration of Jewish Teens (where over 300 people gathered together at the Chicago Botanic Gardens), my team collaborated to turn fresh, creative, and imaginative ideas from a dream into a reality. The time spent thinking of creative ways to engage Jewish teens and innovative programs was always so exciting, and I like to think that the chances that I took that were a little “out there” paid off in the end. 

I know these 5 lessons will guide me to success on my next path. Thank you to all the teens, parents, youth professionals, coworkers, and passionate members of the Chicagoland Jewish community who have made this journey what it has been!  

Tamara Portrait

-Tamara Stein, Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist 

Meet Marc: CHUSY's New Regional Teen Engagement Director

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To this very day, I remember looking up to all of the USYers, dreaming of one day being like them. At the time, I was a young child, traveling with my parents to attend Camp CHUSY at Ramah in Wisconsin, where my father served as the camp doctor.  In the years since, the dream of making a difference in the world as a USYer never waned. I experienced the joy firsthand as a dedicated USY member in high school, and now everything has come full circle as I take on the role of Regional Teen Engagement Director for the CHUSY region. It feels so good to be back, this time running the region I love so much. 


Let me share a little about myself. I graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in business education. I also have a degree in Elementary Education from Northeastern Illinois University.  I am 35 years old and have been a member of Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, IL for over 25 years. I spent the past 11 years working with BJUSY, the local USY chapter at Beth Judea and perhaps the biggest honor in this role was having my teens honored this past year as USY’s International Chapter of the Year.  I also spent the past five years as a teacher in public elementary and middle schools, teaching everything from 3rd to 8th grade.  This year, I am excited to be switching professional paths, and making my USY involvement a full time job as the new Regional Teen Engagement Director for Chicagoland (CHUSY) and Central (CRUSY) regions in USY.  

In my new role, I will be overseeing programming for 6th-12th graders across eight states, while managing all USY and Kadima events for USCJ (United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism).   I am excited for all that is to come with CHUSY Region USY this coming year. If you have not been to a USY program before, now is the time! USY is not just a youth group, it is a family. This year we will be exploring new ideas, implementing exciting initiatives and creating unique programs.  I am proud to announce our first new program: a kick-off event on September 16th, where we are renting out Second City for an exclusive CHUSY only show! We hope you will all be there for this exciting program!  

For any questions about CHUSY Region, USY, or youth programming in general, please feel free to reach out to me at msender@uscj.org. To learn more about CHUSY region, please visit our website at www.chusy.org.  



Marc Sender 

Regional Teen Engagement Director 


Introducing...Summer JTAC!

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There is no better time to meet new people and try something new than during summertime. Last week, Springboard embraced the spirit of summer by meeting with teens from all over the Chicagoland area for the first gathering of the Summer Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (Summer JTAC). Summer JTAC is a board made up of teens from different Jewish backgrounds and Chicago area regions. Over the summer, this group will come together to create opportunities for Jewish teens staying in the Chicagoland area to connect and get to know each other.  

JTAC Participants

After the first meeting, we asked Summer JTAC members why they are excited to serve on this board. This is what they had to say:  


"Because I can help create events and projects for Jewish teens to enjoy and learn at the same time." –Emily Fridland, rising Junior Rochelle Zell Jewish High School 

 “To continue to participate in Jewish events when there is typically a lull in organized activities. I also am ecstatic to be able to develop more leadership skills throughout this board that could potentially help me in the future as a leader in my community. ” – Abby Lapins, rising Senior Stevenson High School  

JTAC Group

"I will get to meet new people, plan fun events, and gain new leadership skills.” –  Jenna Chiet, rising Junior Niles North High School  

The Summer JTAC Board is planning two great events for rising 9th -12th graders this July. They hope to see Chicago area teens who are local this summer. So, if you’re attending summer school, working, or looking for fun ways to connect with the Jewish community (or know someone who is), join us at one of these upcoming events! 

Beach Bash  

Wednesday, July 18 

Northwestern Lakefill  

6:00 PM 

Register here 

Lake Forest Days  

Tuesday, July 31 

Meet at Market Square 

6:30 PM  

Register here  

Temple Jeremiah’s Teen Service Trip to Costa Rica

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Temple Jeremiah’s Teen Service Trip to Costa Rica  

By Naomi Segal, Youth and Family Engagement Director at Temple Jeremiah  

Last week, I traveled with ten incredible teenagers from Temple Jeremiah, a Reform Jewish congregation in Northfield, Illinois, to Costa Rica for a weeklong service trip. Our trip was centered around Jewish values, including tzedek (Hebrew for justice) and kehillah (Hebrew for community).  

Costa Rica 1

For one week, our group lived in Pozo Azul, a small community populated by around 100 families. Although we were only in Pozo Azul for one week, we were able to develop impactful relationships with the local families due to the small size of the community and their warm hospitality and appreciation. Our primary service projects included re-paving sidewalks, building speed bumps on the main road, and painting the exterior walls and gate to the Pozo Azul cemetery. While these projects were exhausting at times—especially when we had to mix the cement—the experience left us feeling empowered, and it served as a great opportunity for us to become part of the Pozo Azul community and strengthen our Jewish identities.  

Costa Rica 2

We also did a variety of cultural activities ranging from visiting a local cattle farm, watching the Costa Rica vs. Serbia World Cup game, making empanadas, hiking to a hot spring, teaching at the elementary school, playing fútbol with local kids, swimming in the Pacific Ocean, and dancing at our bienvenida (welcome party). A highlight for many on the trip was our day excursion to Monteverde, also known as the Cloud Forest. Monteverde is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. We hiked through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and ziplined on the longest zipline in Latin America. It was great to see so many of the teens (and myself) face their fears when we took a leap of faith on the bungee jump at the end. The cultural experiences were unique immersion opportunities to celebrate a different culture, step outside our comfort zones, and create a lifelong appreciation for the Pozo Azul community.  

Costa Rica 3

As the Youth and Family Engagement Director at Temple Jeremiah, I spent over a year planning this trip. Seeing how well our group bonded with each other and the Pozo Azul community made the entire planning experience worth it. I loved overhearing the teens singing the “Sh’ma” before lights out or singing “Shabbat Shalom” together while exploring the town of Pozo Azul.  

Costa Rica Group

Here are a few snippets from some of the teens’ reflections on the trip:  

“Working together and becoming so close with a group of nine other Jewish teens I barely knew reinvigorated my sense of Jewish community. It reminded me how important Jewish communities are and to continue seeking them in my future. Even though all of us are Jews in very different ways, in Pozo Azul, we were connected by this shared trait which made our Jewish identity grow even stronger.”  - Jordana Bornstein, recent graduate of Deerfield High School and incoming freshman at New York University 

“I learned a lot about the power of community during my trip. The people in Pozo Azul all take care of each other and treat each other like family. They welcomed twelve strangers into their homes like it was no big deal. Locals would wave at us on the streets or have a conversation with us at a hot spring. Such small acts of kindness like this made us all feel so welcome and comfortable in Costa Rica.” - Sloane Shabelman, incoming freshman at Glenbrook South High School 

“One of my favorite things to do is talk to people, and I just loved to learn about everybody and what makes them who they are. Not only did I enjoy doing this with the group, but I also enjoyed doing this with Don Luis and Nydia (our host family for the week).” -  Julia Belian, incoming senior at New Trier High School 

Costa Rica 4

You can read more about this incredible trip on their blog online  here!