The idea for J-Teen began, as so many good ideas seem to begin, in the parking lot of the Boulder JCC.
Sara Goldberg, the newly hired director of Hebrew High, had just attended a Shmoozers meeting, a monthly gathering of Jewish professionals and lay leaders convened by the JCC to enhance community cooperation and communication. At the meeting, Sarah Indyk had shared information about Rose Community Foundation’s exciting new MazelTot initiative.
“Once again, there was a grant for children, which is great,” Goldberg thought to herself. “But why aren’t funders also thinking about teens?”
Spending Wednesday nights in a JCC bursting with boisterous Jewish teens led Goldberg to the revelation that other than Hebrew High and NFTY, there wasn’t much else for the age group she was charged with engaging. She realized that Hebrew High wasn’t the right choice for everyone and wasn’t enough for some students.
My big thing is that if you lose them as teens and they don’t see a reason to stay connected, they go off to college, where it’s easy not to be involved,” she says with urgency. “Then we are apt to lose them for life. I don’t want to let that happen.”
Outside the building, she grumbled to Julie Shaffer, who has a long history of working and volunteering in the Boulder Jewish community and is currently director of the Oreg Foundation. Shaffer suggested she and Goldberg meet to talk about creating opportunities for teens. They met and tossed around ideas for engaging teens in the community, and decided their next meeting should be with JCC Executive Director Linda Loewenstein.
Loewenstein had already been thinking about filling the teen gap in the Boulder JCC offerings. “Over the years we’ve increased our programming beyond the pre-school to include Shalom Baby and Shalom Family,” Loewenstein says. “We recognized there was a gap and that while Hebrew High was a wonderful opportunity, it’s wasn’t enough. We were missing a piece of the puzzle.”
The ad hoc committee decided to hold a focus group, where parents were invited to help brainstorm. “Lots of parents knew they wanted to see more for the teens but didn’t know what it should look like,” Goldberg explains. “We ended up talking about community service, leadership opportunities, resume building, navigating the college application process, mentoring and safe social events.”
The team also began the process of finding funding for a teen department at the Boulder JCC. The timing, as it turned out, was perfect for launching a teen initiative. Denver was set to host the JCC Macabbi Games in August of 2010. The excitement of the games was coupled with a growing awareness of the limited options for teens.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation provided a challenge grant to underwrite the salary for the Teen Director. Rose Community Foundation matched the grant with monies designated for a larger teen initiative. Additional funds from 18 Pomegranates are providing scholarship opportunities and venue sponsorship for the JCC Maccabi Games.
Goldberg is now busy marketing the JCC Macabbi Games to Boulder families, recruiting students, finding volunteers, administering scholarships, and running programs. She is also actively recruiting students for the Boulder JCC department temporarily named J-Teen.
Although Goldberg is the director, J-Teen will not be staff driven, she explains. “We are pulling together an advisory committee that will develop a program. Once we have the teen committee from different denominations and backgrounds, we’ll hold a retreat with them, hopefully in August. From that we’ll determine what the program should look like. They’ll name it, make decisions and run it.”
Goldberg, the mother of one former and one current Hebrew High student, was hired by CAJE in 2008 to replace retiring Boulder Hebrew High director Jackie Wong. She spent the first year re-assessing the program and looking at new models, some of which she instituted in her second term. Boulder’s Hebrew High school has grown from 68 students last year to 110 this year, and 16 Boulder students are currently signed up for IST, up from 7 last year.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Goldberg says, “and we keep working on finding what works and what doesn’t work. It’s a constantly evolving process.”