It was a powerful and moving morning when the 35 high school students comprising the Kehillat Israel Tzedakah Teens board gathered to award six worthy organizations a combined $25,000 in grants on May 18.
A philanthropy program comprised of teens, KITT is designed to inspire young people to learn about challenging social issues from a Jewish perspective.
Participants decide how to responsibly generate and award up to $25,000 to organizations that they determine are most effective in making the world a better place – a reflection of their commitment to the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, meaning “heal the world.”
“These teens have found a way to create change that is personally meaningful and globally impactful,” said Elenna King, who facilitates the group alongside Jennifer Zolonz and Lauren Levine.
Founded by Rosanne Zierleg and Pam Soloman, the philanthropy has raised $300,000 to date through bake sales, phone-a-thons, support letters and matching by the Ziering Family Foundation and the Fineberg Foundation.
“Some things you have to see to believe and others you have to believe to be seen. This is one of them and it is seven years strong now,” Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben said. “We had to believe that youth could take on the responsibility to profoundly and seriously change lives. This is a tremendous opportunity for our youth. I stand here today in awe of our youth who truly understand that what they do matters. They understand that they can make a difference in the world. I am blown away by our kids.”
Every decision, including grant research, budgeting, fundraising and the final selection process, is orchestrated by the board of teens accepted into the program through application.
This year, teen board members awarded funds to Action in Africa, a non-profit organization that collaborates with locals in Uganda to educate their youth, inspire their communities and empower their country. The grant will ensure that 270 students at the primary level are able to attend school at a reduced price.
“This is my favorite event of the year. At KI, we do an overwhelming number of things throughout the year, but this is my favorite moment,” Reuben said.
Blue Card was granted support for Holocaust survivors living in poverty in the United States. Returning grant recipient, Chai Lifeline, was also the recipient of a KITT grant, which will allow children battling cancer and serious disease to attend camp on scholarship.
First-time grant applicants One on One accepted an award from the teens to provide nourishment to food-insecure residents on Figueroa in South Central. In a particularly moving moment, Ejigu Yayehyirad Mekonnen accepted the final grant on behalf of Save A Child’s Heart. Mekonnen is currently training with the organization and will soon be the only pediatric cardiac surgeon in all of Ethiopia.
“I want to congratulate these young people who are taking over the world to make it better. I don’t have the words,” Mekonnen said. “When we fix one child’s heart, we are able to give their whole life back to them. You have saved one life, if not more, with your gift today.”
Several of the students spoke about their involvement with KITT, each sharing an account of the impact their involvement had on themselves.
“The KITT experience is very powerful,” said Jake Praglin. “I’ve grown in my ability to see the world from another’s perspective. My eyes have been opened to how privileged we are here in the Palisades.”
At the close of the event, Rabbi Amy Bernstein addressed the board of teens, offering a stirring commission to the young philanthropists.
“You are a force for good and change and the ways you have touched the world are truly inspiring,” Bernstein said. “We wish for our young people continued strength and continued vision. We wish for you hope in a time of cynicism. We want you to continue to believe in a future fueled by community and hope because we believe that you cannot be stopped by any force in the universe.”
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