This post originally appeared on the Jewish Teen Funders Network blog.
My philanthropic journey started over a year ago, in a classroom at Yale University. Over the course of the semester, I participated in what turned out to be the most unique, fascinating, crazy, and rewarding class I have ever taken. Sixteen of us in Philanthropy in Action learned about the non-profit world, different theories of charity, philanthropy, evaluation, and how to strategically give away money. We met with many interesting philanthropists, and in the end had to decide among ourselves how to give away $50,000 of actual money.
In February, after the course had ended, I received an email from the director at Camp Kadimah, a Jewish summer camp out in Nova Scotia, Canada that I’ve been on staff at since 2009, with this past summer serving as Program Director. The subject line of the email read “Potential Opportunity.” My director said that he was thinking of participating in the Jewish Teen Funders Network Camp Philanthropy Program, which sounded similar to my philanthropy class. He wanted to know if I’d want to take on the responsibility of running it with our entering 11th grade CITs.
I immediately wrote him back telling him that we should 100% participate – and we did. He took my advice and our camp joined a group of 39 camps who participated in the Camp Philanthropy Program last summer. In the months leading up to camp, I prepared for the unique opportunity to get to give to these kids at camp an experience like what I’d had at Yale.
In June, I got to camp and jumped right into the program. At the risk of sounding cliché, the student had become the teacher. I tried to draw on my experience from my Philanthropy in Action class to help me lead the program with the Camp Kadimah CITs. I was particularly excited to facilitate this program with this group of 16 young people (coincidentally, the same size as our class at Yale), because a number of them had been my campers my first year on staff.
During the first few weeks of camp, every few days I would sit down with the CITs, discussing tzedakah and tikkun olam, thinking about how we’d make sure everyone’s voice was heard, and clarifying our own mission as a teen foundation. I gathered Requests for Proposals from local organizations, which were reviewed by the CITs in detail. The most exciting part of the experience for the CITs was our two site visits. Half of the group left camp to visit the Blockhouse School Project. There, a passionate older man told us of their work turning an old school into a community center and sustainability hub, complete with a wall made of books and a garden. He explained how they needed a new septic system or the government would shut them down. In the afternoon, I took the other half of the CITs to visit the Lunenburg District Victorian Order of Nurses, where we sat in a luxurious boardroom and were given a PowerPoint presentation on their work with the elderly population of Lunenburg before seeing their facilities. It was fascinating to see the contrast between these organizations, both doing important work in very different ways, and the CITs’ reactions to the different presentations. That afternoon, all our CITs came together and debriefed each other on their respective visits.
Then came the moment of truth. One morning, with about a week left of camp, the CITs spent the morning making their grant allocation decisions, speaking passionately about the pros and cons of each organization, figuring out how to make the best decision possible. After much deliberation, they decided to give $770 to the Victorian Order of Nurses for their work with the elderly, and $230 to Adsum House, a shelter for women and children. We concluded our process by presenting homemade oversized checks to the organizations receiving funding before our entire camp at the end of summer banquet. I was incredibly impressed with our CITs’ maturity throughout the process, especially when we were making the final decision. In many ways, the way they approached the decision making process struck me as much more logical, organized and impressive than the way my class full of Yale students had! Looking back, many of my proudest moments at camp this summer came while working with the CIT’s on this program.
Since then, things have come full circle for me. When camp ended, I moved down to New York City to serve as the Bildner Fellow at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. As part of this internship, I spent a week at the JTFN office, helping plan the training for next summer’s Camp Philanthropy educators. I studied camper survey responses and came across the surveys I’d had the Kadimah CITs fill out at camp a few months ago.
Last weekend, I went back to Yale to see this year’s Philanthropy in Action class award their grants to the organizations they’d chosen. It was during this ceremony that I realized how far my philanthropic journey had come in just one year. When my director first emailed me about the JTFN program, it wasn’t just a “Potential Opportunity”, like his subject line read, but something much bigger. These ideas of philanthropy and repairing the world help me see the world differently. Bringing the excitement of teen philanthropy into the magic of summer camp is one of the most meaningful programs I’ve seen in the Jewish world. I personally cannot wait to run this program with a new group of CITs again at Camp Kadimah, and for over 1,000 more teens at Jewish camps across North America to have this incredible opportunity.
Josh Satok is a senior at Yale University and is currently serving as the Bildner Fellow at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. He spent a week at the Jewish Teen Funders Network working on their Camp Philanthropy Program. Josh is a native of Toronto and has spent the past five summers as a staff at Camp Kadimah. He can be reached at email@example.com.