Teens commit to a cause

Teens commit to a cause

JCC on Palisades hopes to train teen social entrepreneurs

Two of last year’s participants in the Teen Philanthropy Institute of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, Arianna Sidoti, left, and Jacob Weinberg, present a check to Maura Milles of Hand in Hand: The Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, a program that brings Jewish and Arab children together.

Robert Berger dreams of helping feed hungry people.

And he’s hoping that the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly can help his dream come true.

Berger, a 15-year-old sophomore at the Northern Valley Regional High School in Demarest, has applied to join the JCC’s new Commit program, which aims to help 15 local teens develop their plans to help the world.

“We want to take the teens who have a passion and give them an opportunity to expand on it,” said Sara Sideman, director of teen services at the JCC.

The program will feature monthly one-on-one meetings for the teens with Sideman or her colleagues, and four meetings where the whole group will learn about a different social challenge, such as poverty, hunger, homelessness, and illiteracy.

Sideman is modeling the program after PresenTense, the social entrepreneurship program that has helped nearly 500 of its fellows launch Jewish community projects. (PresenTense is recruiting its next cohort of New York-area adults looking to make a difference at www.nycfellowship.com.)

Sideman wants students to harness their passion to make the world a better place.

“If a student is really fascinated with hunger in Bergen county and loves filmmaking, he could potentially create a documentary on hunger in Bergen County that could be used as an educational tool for the food banks,” she said.

Berger’s idea is to create a website that will help food retailers who have surplus food connect to food banks and soup kitchens that need it.

“As the son of someone who works as an executive in retail, I’ve seen all the kinds of things that go to waste. I want to bridge the gap between what goes to waste and those people who need it,” he said.

Sideman said the Commit program will help prepare teens for working independently in college.

Sideman sees the program as a follow-up to the JCC’s Teen Philanthropy Institute, which brings together eighth- through tenth-graders to learn about causes and allocate charitable contributions. Over the last six years, more than 100 teens have taken part in the institute, and they have distributed $111,000. (Kids donate $250 each year they participate; in the program’s first years that money was matched by a donor.)

Bergman, like many but not all of the applicants to the Commit program, has taken part in the Teen Philanthropy Institute.

“The TPI group is doing great things,” he said. But where that program “would move on to new organizations and new themes of where we would donate to, this new Commit program allows us to follow through with what we want to address and see it through all the way.

“I feel it can guide me to my objectives. Having the entire crew of this whole program behind me can offer moral support and encouragement, while offering practical guidance in what to do,” he said.

Sideman hopes at the end of the year the Commit participants will be able to present their projects in the JCC lobby, “so the community can see what they did.”

Commit is aimed at students in tenth through twelfth grade – a cohort that often is unwilling to commit to JCC programming.

“Our students are so busy with everything going on in their lives, we’re not always able to catch them on a weekly basis,” Sideman said. “This is our chance to get them involved without having them come into the building every week.”

In return, the students get community service hours and college recommendations.

But most importantly: “Doing good deeds for the world helps everything go around,” Berger said.

More information and a registration form are available at http://bit.ly/1ekRWCP.

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