JTEAM Teens Pivot On a Dime To Grant Thousands in COVID Relief

What if someone gave a teenager $3,000 and said, "Use this to make the world a better place?" Well, that is exactly what happens during Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey’s JTEAM teen philanthropy program.

Each year, teens from Monmouth and Greater Middlesex counties pool their dollars and spend most of the school year learning about philanthropy  in the process, developing leadership, negotiation, and presentation skills; learning about solutions to pressing humanitarian needs, and making an impact on the world today.

But this year, there was a last-minute twist in the typical JTEAM curriculum: CORONAVIRUS disrupted life as we know it.

After a school year of sessions, right at the time that JTEAMERS were about to make critical allocation decisions on where their dollars would go, COVID-19 forced them, along with millions of others, into home quarantine, businesses to close, and schools to go virtual.

With so much to process and many friends and family members affected by COVID-19, what did the Federation JTEAMERS do? They pivoted their thinking and rose to action. They recognized that our community was undergoing challenges that were unfathomable only weeks before. They requested revised proposals from the agencies they were ready to allocate dollars to in order to address COVID-related needs in real time.  

Within a few days, agencies turned around their COVID-19 related proposals – which sounded drastically different than only a month prior. And on April 2, 2020, weeks before the original decision-making date, the teens met by videoconference, discussed, and debated.

Here is what they found: 

  • Food insecurity continues to show itself as the #1 basic human need in our community – and across the nation. The numbers continue to rise because of COVID-19: In a single day this March, Jewish Family Services (JFS) received 15 more requests from aging adults for Kosher Meals on Wheels and 11 more requests from families for food from its kosher pantry. Over the whole month of March, JFS more than doubled the number of people it assisted with food from 117 in 2019 to 239 in 2020. And, comparing March 16 - 30, 2020 to the same days last year, the agency saw a 64 percent rise in requests for food assistance. 

Here is what they did:

  • With that in mind, JTEAMERs awarded Jewish Family Services, Middlesex County $1,500 to replenish its kosher food pantries and support homebound seniors who need Kosher Mmeals on Wheels. 

What else they found:

  • COVID-19's unprecedented toll on The Hebrew Academy affects school personnel as well as students and their parents  including many parents affected by furloughs, lay-offs, and COVID-related illness.

What else they did:

  • The Hebrew Academy requested funds to directly help families in need, and the decision was a no-brainer for the JTEAMERs. The teens awarded The Hebrew Academy $1,000, that, to date, has almost all been used to send food, including Shabbat meals and homemade Challah, to those impacted by COVID-19 medically and financially.  

And finally, they found:

  • While Social Isolation is now a household phrase, it is something that The Friendship Circle community of families with children and young adults who have special needs lives with daily. These families turn to The Friendship Circle in Central Jersey for its warm, engaging, and beneficial social programs and support. When the Coronavirus forced the community into quarantine, knowing that structure and friendship make all the difference to kids and teens with special needs, The Friendship Circle reacted quickly. Within a couple of weeks, all in-person social programs became virtual, featuring the same program leaders that participants know and love; its teen volunteers (and adults) were enlisted to do regular outreach to program participants and their families; and thoughtfully-created activity packs were delivered to over 150 families – to engage participants for hours at a time.

JTEAMERs decided:

  • When The Friendship Circle requested funds to create and send out an additional round of activity packs to participants' families, JTEAMERS agreed and awarded The Friendship Circle $500. Those activity packs, with all the thought and care expressed throughthem, are just one act of friendship that has the capacity to change people's lives.  

"Investing in our children is investing in our future, said Susan Antman, Jewish Federation's Executive Director. "Federation's leadership develpment programs, such as JTEAM, ensure our young people tune in to the needs in Jewish life, adopt a strategic mindset for solving problems, and learn to turn their feelings of caring into values of generosity and a love of tzedakah."

"The life lessons taught through the JTEAM curriculum can affect teens for a lifetime," added Linda Benish, JTEAM program director. "The critical thinking, collaboration, and leadership skills teens gain serve them – and their communities – well through the high school and college years, and beyond."

To get involved in JTEAM 2020-2021, contact us.  


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