Multi-faceted, Ambitious Jewish Teen Initiative to Launch in Denver and Boulder

Efforts supported by Rose Community Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation draw on national organizations, proven models for Jewish teen engagement and education

July 14, 2014
News Media Contacts: Jason Edelstein, Jim Joseph Foundation, 510.239.1102
Marci Hladik, Rose Community Foundation, 303.398.7445

Denver, CO – Rose Community Foundation (RCF) in Denver, CO announced the launch today of a multi-faceted Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Initiative, supported by a four-year matching grant up to $2,256,015 from the Jim Joseph Foundation. The grant will match the support committed from individual donors and local foundations on a 1:1 basis, led by RCF’s initial grant of $1,065,255 over two years. The collaborative initiative has five key components and is designed both to increase the number and diversity of high school age Jewish teens participating in Jewish education and engagement experiences, and to deepen the quality and diversity of those experiences. The grant was awarded within the framework of the Jim Joseph Foundation’s national-local funder collaborative, a group of funders interested in working together to expand and deepen community-based Jewish teen education and engagement.

“Rose Community Foundation is thrilled to be partnering with the Jim Joseph Foundation and many other funders to change the Jewish landscape for teens,” says Sheila Bugdanowitz, president and CEO at Rose Community Foundation. “This is an innovative and incredibly dynamic initiative that has the potential to completely change the Jewish teen experience in the Greater Denver community. We are very excited to work with our community partners to bring an array of new offerings to Jewish teens. A Teen Summit in 2010 helped lay the groundwork for this initiative, a common vision to create a more vibrant Jewish life and to develop more meaningful Jewish learning opportunities for teens.”

The Initiative draws from a variety of best practices, proven models of engagement, and new ideas to offer teens an array of Jewish education and engagement opportunities. RCF will serve as the manager of the initiative, working with multiple local and national organizations to support both existing and new Jewish teen initiatives. The Initiative will support:

  1. expansion of Jewish Student Connection's (JSC) network of Jewish clubs in local high schools, along with the start of new clubs in middle schools;
  2. expansion of Moving Tradition's gender-based monthly discussion groups for Jewish teens—“Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing!” and “Shevet Achim: The Brotherhood.”
  3. launch of a new Boulder Jewish Teen Initiative (BJTI) in Boulder modeled after the North Shore Teen Initiative, which facilitates collaboration among Jewish youth groups and synagogues;
  4. launch of a pilot experiment, Jewish Teens Make it Happen Fellows, that will provide micro-grants and support to Jewish teens in Greater Denver interested in creating Jewish experiences for their peers; and
  5. training and support for the Jewish Youth Professionals Council, a network of all Jewish youth professionals in Greater Denver as they collaborate to manage participation data, increase their skills to mentor adolescents, and seek to reach the under-engaged.

“In both its collaborative structure and plans for Jewish teen education, this initiative is unabashedly ambitious—and that’s why we are excited,” says Al Levitt, president of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “Led by Rose Community Foundation, the Greater Denver community will be positioned to provide new Jewish learning opportunities to thousands of teens. We expect a level of creativity and experimentation in this initiative that also will offer insight and unique ideas for other Jewish communities as well.”

Rose Community Foundation has been deeply involved in the Jim Joseph Foundation’s national-local funder collaborative to share best practices about community-based Jewish teen education and engagement and to launch these types of targeted local initiatives. The collaborative began nearly a year ago, following the release of the Jim Joseph Foundation report, Effective Strategies for Educating and Engaging Jewish Teens. Earlier this year, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston was awarded the first grant as part of the collaborative.

“This initiative is a direct result of a unique collaboration among local funders across the country,” adds David Bryfman, chief innovation officer, The Jewish Education Project. “Because of Denver’s current level of teen engagement, it is an interesting place to pilot this initiative. The level of investment and readiness to collaborate in the local community makes this a particularly promising experiment, and there will certainly be lessons learned for other communities.”

The structure of the initiative reflects an understanding of various effective Jewish teen engagement strategies. As one example, the Jewish Teens Make it Happen Fellows will put financial resources directly into the hands of Jewish teen innovators to create their own Jewish experiences to engage their peers and to make a meaningful difference in their community. As another example, the BJTI—spearheaded by Jewish Student Connection, the Boulder JCC and all major synagogues in Boulder—will offer teens the chance to engage in Jewish experiences regardless of denomination or organizational affiliation.

In JSC and Moving Traditions—national education program providers with a presence in Greater Denver—the initiative supports the expansion of innovative, proven models to educate and engage all Jewish teens. JSC currently operates in public high schools and plans to expand into middle schools.

“Our community has an incredible opportunity to come together and change the teen Jewish experience here,” Lisa Farber Miller, senior program officer at Rose Community Foundation, adds. “By increasing the capacity of all organizations involved in this grant, by offering professional support and resources to our Jewish youth professionals, and—critically—by putting teens in the driver seat of their Jewish journeys, we believe we will create more meaningful Jewish learning and engagement opportunities. It is well documented that the teen years are formative years—we need to engage youth at this critical stage and empower them to find their own meaning and connections to Jewish life.”

Rose Community Foundation works to enhance the quality of life of the Greater Denver community through its leadership, resources, traditions and values, and by advising and assisting donors who wish to make thoughtful, strategic decisions with their charitable gifts. The Foundation has granted more than $208 million since it was founded in 1995. The Jewish Life program area at Rose Community Foundation makes grants to create and sustain a more welcoming, vibrant, diverse and inspiring quality of Jewish life that engages more Jewish people in the Greater Denver community. For more information, visit rcfdenver.org.