Teens Making a Difference: Saltzman Youth Panel Blog

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Blogs from the 2019-2020 Saltzman Youth Panel

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland's Saltzman Youth Panel program educates Jewish Cleveland students about the philanthropic process and responding to Jewish and general community needs. The panelists, made up of high school juniors and seniors, recommend the distribution of up to $50,000 in grant funding to worthy programs in the Jewish and general communities. Through this program, participants develop their leadership and group consensus building skills as they learn about the community decision-making, leadership, and most importantly, tzedakah.

Eliana Goodman, a member of the 2019-20 Saltzman Youth Panel cohort, shares a reflection from their recent session:

At the monthly meeting for Saltzman Youth Panel, we were in groups to discuss the United Way Foundations that we would be allocating to. We began the meeting by going around the room and explaining what we had remembered and learned from the previous meeting. We reflected on the Spectrum activity and the agency presentation with new facts that we had not known before listening to the presentations.

Then, we got right down to business. There were statements posted around the room relating to money and personal growth. Anonymously, we went around the room and placed crosses on those that we have heard of and check marks on those that we personally agree with. The discussion regarding that activity was interesting because of the different ways we were raised so one person might feel more open and comfortable talking about money than someone who was raised in a different way.

After that, we had a presentation by Katie Foster, senior associate director for Resource Development Operations at United Way of Greater Cleveland. She presented facts by interacting the teens in standing and sitting exercises which were the statistics of the literacy rate, graduation rates, and other similar statistics of the Greater Cleveland area. Katie summarized her role with United Way and the importance and mission of United Way with both global and local impacts.

Next, we reviewed our notes for the United Way proposals and begin with a small group discussion for which groups and amounts, working our way up to a larger group discussion where we decided where we would be allocating to. Personally, the small group discussion was easier to work with because there weren’t as many voices and opinions compared to the large group discussion.

In the small groups, we first went through every proposal and compared it to our brit, our group agreement, and our Request for Proposal and Grant Application (RFP). These outlined the values and important topics we agreed upon were the most important to us. We then numbered the proposals of those that most align with our RFP and those that didn’t align completely. We also looked into the specifics of each program and how much money would go to help. This brought up the discussion of breadth or depth: whether we wanted to go small and deep or surface level and large.

After some debate, our group decided that we wanted to do both because it was important to us that both a large amount of people is helped, and a minority and vulnerable population could also be aided. Transitioning into the large group discussion was difficult because of the sheer number of voices and opinions in one room together. We were all there for the same reason and wanted to help others by allocating money to them, but the diversity of the organizations and their missions as well as the diversity of our personal experiences led to some disagreements. After we all came to a consensus on the organizations we were going to fund and their respective amounts, everyone was happy with the decision that was made. Some still felt strongly about a specific organization or a specific amount of money, but in the end we all came to an agreement and it’s all going to help our community which is the most significant part of the Saltzman Youth Panel.

Eliana Goodman is a junior at Solon High School. She is a member of Park Synagogue. In her free time, Eliana is a very active member of the Ohio Northern Region BBYO and coordinates the New Member Weekend for 100 new members of the region. She is also the acting president of the BBYO chapter and keeps all Cleveland members of her chapter connected and informed.

Amelia Port

Amelia Port, a member of the 2019-20 Saltzman Youth Panel cohort, shares a reflection from their recent session:

On December 8, Saltzman Youth Panel of 2019-2020 was very productive! We began this session how it always begins; listening to a D’var Torah from one of the Saltzman panel participants. After a lovely D’var Torah, Saltzman participants listened to a quick speech about the Campaign for Jewish Needs that was in its final days.

Then, participants did a review of the previous session. Panelists who were present for the previous session did a quick recap of the last session for those who were not in attendance. During this recap, we went over what a request for proposal is, as well as the note papers panelists received for notetaking on the agency presentations. Then, we got right into the presentations.

All partners/groups presented their agency to the panelists while panelists took notes on things such as the mission of the agency and what the community would lose if this agency would cease to exist. After many presentations, the group took a break to do a team-building exercise – an extreme game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. After the team-building exercise, we continued with the presentations.

Amelia Port (center) with fellow panelists at the December 8 session.

Many presentations later and after all the notes were filled out, we played a game called Lay It On The Line. This game was aimed toward the panelists' opinion and would help everybody to see one another's viewpoints on certain issues, such as breadth vs. depth or whether building a start-up program vs. aiding a large program one would be of more importance. This activity lead to a very important conclusion that will be helpful throughout the rest of the sessions. This conclusion was that everybody’s difference in opinions ​will make it difficult to come to a consensus on what these organizations deserve and who will ultimately receive money. This conclusion is what many people wrote as their takeaways, which is how we ended the session.

Everybody shared a takeaway from the session as well as a fact that they learned. While this session was tedious, it was certainly productive. I’m definitely looking forward to next time!

An extreme game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors."

Amelia Port is a junior at Beacwhood High School. She is a member of Park Synagogue and BBYO. In her free time, Amelia volunteers at Montefiore and MedWish, and Save a Child's Heart (in Israel). Amelia holds a drive to collect and donate items to BetterWorldBooks, Goodwill, and Soles4Souls, and is very passionate about helping children with medical or developmental disabilities.

Rylan Polster

My name is Rylan Polster and I am one of the Saltzman Youth Panelists this year. We met for the first time this past Sunday at Bellefaire JCB to learn about the goals of the program and what our roles would be as participants.

Like any youth program, we started with an icebreaker to get to know each other. In this case, the question was “If you had 1 million dollars, what is one cause you would donate the money to?” Already, this was not your typical “get to know each other” question.

Personally, I chose to give money to education, as that is something that I’m very passionate about, but it was interesting to see what other people found important. While there were a few other people who were also focused on education, other categories had significantly more interest. In fact, Jewish organizations were probably the most popular category. Whether it was donating to the Jewish Federation directly or to a camp or school, many people decided that this is where their 1 million dollars should go. Another popular category was focused on helping populations in need. This category included services such as homeless shelters or food banks. I have to say, I'm not surprised that this was a popular category. In my experience, teens today are often very aware of other people in need, so I'm proud to see that teens in our community are ready to take action.

The other major activity that we completed was to create a Brit Lashon Hatov, or a Community Commitment; in other words, a contract that dictates how we will operate during this program. Initially, we selected our favorites from a list of prepared statements but quickly found that we weren’t able to narrow down our options, and we would need to write our own. It ended up being a difficult process to come up with the wording we wanted. Some people seemed to prefer more general phrasing while others wanted to be very clear about the wording. I found myself thinking about how to rephrase other people's thoughts in a way that included the feelings of different people.

I'm glad to say that I thought highly of the experience overall. I got to know the people in the program, and I am excited to learn more about the process of allocating funds and making a difference in our community.

Rylan Polster is a junior at Shaker Heights High School. He is a member of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation and an israel.cleveland.next (icnext) participant. Rylan is a participant of the Mini Mussar with JFX and a member of the Academic Challenge club at his school. In his free time, Rylan volunteers as a software developer with Case Western Reserve and Cleveland Clinic.

Check back soon for more updates from the 2019-2020 Saltzman Youth Panel!

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