Teens Making a Difference: Saltzman Youth Panel Blog

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Blogs from the 2019-2020 Saltzman Youth Panel

2019-20 Saltzman Youth Panel discussing grant proposals during an earlier session at Fuchs Mizrachi School.

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.

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

This past Sunday, the Saltzman Youth Panel met over Zoom for our first session online and our last session of the year. Throughout the meeting we had to think critically about the final stage of the allocation process: finalizing the numbers. This was a tough task for us because we were all extremely passionate about a diverse set of organizations and their initiatives, and deciding who deserves a larger sum of money was not an easy task.

As the school year and Saltzman Youth Panel end, I reflected on the things that I have learned throughout this process. Through interviewing important members of different organizations, we learned how to form connections, research thoroughly, establish values, and how to ask the right questions. After these meetings, we worked on our public speaking skills and presented the information that we learned from the various interviews we conducted. This skill did not end here and throughout the rest of the sessions, we frequently presented our thoughts and opinions on a plethora of topics, and learned the value of our words and also the words of those around us.

I plan to utilize these essential skills of communication, collaboration, and critical thinking I’ve developed over Saltzman Youth Panel in many future endeavors for years to come. 

Gavriel Steiger is a junior at Fuchs Mizrachi School. He is an active member at Green Road Synagogue, Bnei Akiva, and the greater Cleveland community. He strongly believes in the Jewish values of Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam. Gavri hopes to continue making a difference in the world after his time on the panel.

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

As I sat in Bellfaire’s beautiful chapel with its stained glass windows and oddly-shaped walls which echoed our sounds, the events of my day-to-day life filled my mind. Firstly, I was thinking of Purim which was taking place the following day, and the miracle which God put into the hands of Queen Esther. As this floated around in my brain, I began to wonder how I had a place in all of this and how these messages related to what we do every month at the Saltzman Youth Panel.

Different agency representatives came to the chapel in an attempt to hopefully answer the questions we posed from our February meeting about their proposals to further our consideration. We then worked in two teams to build puzzles - or so we thought. As we pieced together our small creation, we noticed that a few pieces did not belong. We finally realized that the other team had the matching pieces to our few lonesome ones, and we put these together to make one more puzzle. This activity reminded me that there is so much that I do not know about in this world, but someday everything will work out. We finished out the afternoon by working in small groups to talk more about the grants in depth. Again, I was thinking about how Purim, and other world events related to my tasks at Saltzman.

After another productive meeting, I left feeling good about the changes I would soon be making in other peoples’ lives. But, after I continued to ponder I recognized how all of these things were weaved together. In the Purim megillah, God’s name is never mentioned, yet the readers know He is behind the scenes working His magic. Just like this, the Saltzman Youth Panel gets to make a behind the scenes change in someone’s life.This privilege could become something wonderful for another individual.

My fellow Satlzman participants and I are Queen Esther in the Purim megillah - we have the power to fix and save our community.

Rachel Rosenthal is a junior at Beachwood High School. She is an active member of JFX, NCSY, Beachwood High School Israeli Culture club, and a volunteer at the Friendship Circle. Rachel is very passionate about being a leader in her community and because of this is on the student council, part of her High Schools leadership group, and on the lacrosse team. Rachel values inclusivity and generosity and shows it in her work with others and spreading those believes with those who follow leadership.

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

At the fifth Saltzman Youth Panel meeting, panelists had the opportunity to discuss Jewish Agency Grant Proposals alongside Federation staff. We started off by reflecting on our decision-making process from the previous session. Panelists noted the difficulty of forming a consensus in a large group of students who feel strongly about different organizations. Then, we got right to work. We got into small groups to review some of the proposals and see if they match our values and priorities. Next, each group took turns sharing a proposal evaluation with the whole panel. Each presentation was followed by a whole-group discussion of the proposal. After the discussion, a vote was held on whether or not we want to keep the proposal in consideration for a grant. If we voted to move forward with a proposal, there was time to share any questions we have for agencies about the project details.

The process of decision making through the Saltzman Youth Panel has taught me two valuable traits that will help lead me through my college and career path: speaking up and listening to others. At the first few meetings, I was afraid to share my opinion much of the time, fearful that other people would disagree with me or think that my ideas were bad. As time went on, I became more passionate about our discussions and one time I finally got the courage to speak up. To my pleasant surprise, a lot of people agreed with my suggestion and I actually made a difference in our decision! My words changed other people’s lives who are now going to get the help they otherwise would not have received. From then on, I have been proud to share my opinion in group discussions as I have realized the impact of even just one person’s voice.

While speaking up can lead to great change, listening to someone else can also have a major effect. One of my favorite parts of our last meeting was getting to work with Federation staff. While my small group was discussing what Jewish learning and community means to us, the staff member at my table asked: “What if there was a room full of Jewish teenagers who were just eating pizza together? Is that Jewish? And what if one person says the berakhah (Hebrew prayer) over the challah? Does that make it Jewish?”. I had never thought about how many different concepts of Judaism there are. His one story exposed me to perspectives that I otherwise would have never thought about and influenced my decision on some of the proposals. Through this eye-opening experience, I learned how valuable it is to listen to others.

I will take what I have learned through the decision-making process at Saltzman with me in the future when making decisions with a group. Now that I know the impact of sharing my voice, I will never again be afraid to express my opinion. I will also appreciate everyone else’s voices and be sure to listen to them as that is an important part of understanding each other. I value the process of the Saltzman Youth Panel as it gives other young teens like me a platform to share our voice and make a difference in our community.

Lauren Clar is a junior at Beachwood High School. She is a member of The Temple-Tifereth Israel. Lauren is passionate about gender equality and has been a strong advocate of this issue. She started a club at her school called Girls Learn International (GLI) to spread awareness of the issue. GLI helps girls in the area and educates about gender equality with an effort to create a better, more equal future.

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.

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

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

Amelia Port

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.

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.

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

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.

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