How We Work With Teens Is Key


Engaging teens by melding Jewish values with secular passions and interests is a formula proposed by Leonard Saxe (“Engaging Teens Through a Jewish Service Corps,” Opinion, Dec. 30) as he advocates for a communal mobilization to create a national Jewish service corps for a post-high school gap year.

The challenges outlined in a new study on teen engagement — presented by The Jewish Education Project and UJA-Federation of New York — prompt this notion, and beg for our attention and design of real solutions to make Judaism relevant for our teens.

Here in Denver, we observe teens dropping out of Jewish life. At Rose Community Foundation, we have made grants aimed at stemming this tide, and in 2010 we commissioned a survey of all available research on Jewish teens to inform our grant making and our teen philanthropy program, Rose Youth Foundation.

The bottom line: how we work with teens is more important than actual program content. For example, programs designed by adults for teens without their input and conversely, teen-led initiatives that lack adult assistance, are much less effective. We need more trained adults who can serve as mentors to work with our teens.

Saxe is certainly on to something when he encourages us to look at service as one way to engage Jewish teens. We’ve found that teen philanthropy, combining service with strategic grant making, is a powerful vehicle for engaging teens in Jewish life, as they use Jewish values to help solve problems they choose to tackle in their community.

A just-released report on Rose Youth Foundation’s first decade reveals positive impact. Alumni report strong Jewish identities, deep connections to Jewish community, strengthened leadership skills, and belief in their capacity to leverage Jewish values to create positive change.

But we know there is not one magic bullet or program that will successfully re-engage our teens. Professionals, philanthropists and researchers must examine the process of engagement and ensure it reflects best practices in youth development and the particular needs of their own communities.

Senior Program Officer Rose Community Foundation Denver

is senior program officer at the Denver-based Rose Community Foundation.