By Alanna Berman
Service to the community has always been a part of the model of Jewish Family Service. But with more than 35 programs reaching San Diego families each year, it can be hard to run without a community that supports the organization. Thankfully, here in San Diego numerous donor groups and individuals have supported and helped to grow the programs of JFS, particularly in the area of youth leadership programs.
“As a non profit, we [at JFS] really work on engaging volunteers in the community and one of the things that we really emphasize to our teens is that giving back is not only important but it can be really fun too – its something our teens appreciate and understand about the community,” Jessica Nare, supervisor for youth leadership programs at JFS says.
Each of three programs: Girls Give Back, the Hand Up Teen Leadership Program and the Ladies of Construction Technology Academy, follow a model of leadership development through service learning. Teen participants learn real-world skills that will carry them into their future endeavors, ensuring the next generation of Jewish leaders.
“One of the broader goals of JFS is to increase community connections and to increase the self-sufficiency of San Diegans, so the programs in our teen leadership department really help to do that,” Nare says.
Each program is funded differently, but all require support from the Jewish community to ensure that teens in the future can continue to benefit from these great programs.
“Girls Give Back and Ladies of CTA are funded by grants and groups of individual donors, so we are always looking for funding to support those programs specifically,” Nare says. “Hand Up is a deficit program that has been around for about seven years, but [through these programs] we develop our own curriculum and high-quality service learning that supports the community, and it always takes a level of community support to do that.”
Girls Give Back
A program for Jewish girls in grades 9-12, Girls Give Back focuses on issues facing women and girls. Priority action areas identified by teen participants include gender-based violence, discussion of the Equal Rights Amendment and empowerment of Jewish girls in middle school. Surveys have shown that 100 percent of participants reported that participation in this program “increased their sense of self, including their social mindedness, healthy self-esteem, empathy, and resilience.”
In conjunction with the Jewish Women’s Foundation, the inaugural class of Girls Give Back was formed about four years ago, and that initial grant will expire in June. JFS is currently looking for additional funding to support the program.
Hand Up Teen Leadership Program
Probably the most visible of JFS’s teen leadership programs, Hand Up participants in high school learn about hunger and food insecurity in San Diego. They support the JFS Hand Up Youth Food pantry by planning fundraisers, organizing food drives, managing volunteers and doing advocacy work throughout the county. Recently, teens in the program applied for and were awarded a Sodexo grant.
As part of the grant process, Hand Up will be screening a documentary called “A Place At the Table” this month at Qualcomm.
“One main focus of the program is for the teens to go out into the community and educate people about food insecurity,” Nare says, “so following the film, they will give a presentation to the audience about hunger in San Diego, and encourage people to host their own food drives to support the Hand Up Youth Food Pantry.”
Ladies of Construction Technology Academy
This program is in partnership with the Stanley E. Foster Construction Technology Academy on Kearny High School’s campus, where girls comprise only 25 percent of the teens that attend this project-based learning school focused on engineering, architecture and construction. Ladies of CTA is a weekly after-school program that teaches teen girls resiliency, conflict resolution and leadership skills, empowering them with the skills necessary to be successful in STEM fields.
The program is funded through a collective of women through the Jewish Community Foundation. Though only in its second year of operation, 95 percent of participants in the program said it “helped them to feel more like a leader” and “helped them develop a positive support system of female friends at CTA.”
How you can help
Community support is necessary to continue the programs of the Youth Leadership department, and all programs of JFS. Donations are accepted over the phone, by mail and online. Employer matches and personal fundraising pages are also a great way to support youth leaders.
“[In all these programs] we work to increase self-confidence, leadership skills, and civic engagement,” Nare says. “About half of our teens receive some kind of financial support from us, so people can make contributions to any of the teen programs in the form of a scholarship for participants in addition to a general donation to the Youth Leadership department.”
To learn more, visit jfssd.org/giving.