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The 2020-2021 school year has brought great uncertainty for high school students. At a time when keeping students engaged and focused on their futures is more challenging than ever, one Jewish philanthropic organization is putting teens on a path to success by providing a platform for them to hone leadership skills and affect positive change in their communities.
Launched in 2006 by the Jewish Funders Network, Honeycomb, formerly Jewish Teen Funders Network, introduces teens to collective philanthropy and teaches them to become lifelong philanthropists. The new name “Honeycomb” represents the interlocking elements of group philanthropy experiences and the richness — both in impact and in meaning — that comes from those experiences. Honey itself also carries special symbolism in Jewish traditions and stories.
Honeycomb partners with more than 100 programs and organizations internationally, such as synagogues, summer camps, day schools and social service agencies and more, and provides them with training, programmatic resources, one-on-one guidance and ongoing technical support to launch their own teen giving circles. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Honeycomb provided its giving circle network with resources to bring their programs entirely online.
More than 2,000 teen philanthropists-in-training participate in Honeycomb giving circles each year, learning how to make an impact on the world through the lens of Jewish values. These giving circles operate the same way traditional giving circles for adults do: Teens get together to select an issue area they care about, and they pool funds to address it. Through regular facilitated sessions, teens engage in deep learning and discussion around the basics about philanthropic giving, such as how nonprofits operate and how to make a fundraising “ask”. At the end of the program, each giving circle creates a Request for Proposals (RFP) that they disseminate to nonprofits working within their selected issue area and collectively decides how to allocate the funds they raised. Through this process, teens gain experience working on big-picture social issues in their communities, develop invaluable leadership skills, and learn from one another. These are lifelong skills that translate to deep community involvement.
Honeycomb’s partner giving circles are making a big impact in their communities. Now in its sixth year, the Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston (JTFGB) at Hebrew College is a year-long program for Jewish high school students of all backgrounds from across the greater Boston area. The program offers multi-year programming and speciality programs to support teens with special needs. In the 2019/20 Academic year, teens across four boards raised thousands of dollars to help address education inequality, substance use disorder, environmental justice and gun violence in their community. This Foundation Board Incubator program is generously supported by Laura Lauder and Maimonides Fund.
Founded in 2002, Jewish Community Youth Foundation (JCYF) is a Jewish youth philanthropy program for teens grades eight through 12. Each teen philanthropist donates their own money, which gets matched and pooled with money raised at a JCYFund-Day Phone-a-thon event. Participants research Jewish nonprofit organizations, learn about philanthropic giving and distribute donations as they choose. JCYF offers a progressive curriculum, where each age group learns about the principles of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedakah (righteous giving), and philanthropy, and how they relate to their groups’ philanthropic focus. The program focuses on Local Social Service, National Social Service, Jewish Arts & Culture, Outreach and Advocacy and Israel. To date, JCYF has awarded 345 Grants with over 700 teens across the years and almost $900,000 awarded in grants.
Honeycomb’s nimble infrastructure allows it to provide a suite of resources that meet the changing needs of its partner network. In September 2020, it launched ChangeMakers90, an online short-form giving circle experience. Designed as a grab-and-go resource for Honeycomb partners, ChangeMakers90 includes full instructions, a session plan, tips for facilitators, ready-made online tools, templates and a slide deck to equip programs to run meaningful youth giving circles online in just 90 minutes. Honeycomb recently conducted a hands-on presentation of this program with JumpSpark, a new Jewish youth organization in Atlanta. During the 90-minute session, Honeycomb walked through the full giving circle experience with the JumpSpark team, beginning with a discussion on shared values and an issue area to address, and ending with selecting a grantee. The group pooled $240 to award its selected grantee, AgeWell Atlanta, an organization that provides support and resources for aging adults. JumpSpark now plans to leverage what they learned and to partner with their educators to create more youth giving circles to be rolled out across Atlanta in 2021.
“In a political moment where having conversations across difference can seem almost impossible, the Jewish Teen Funders Network has created a platform through which to have conversations where everyone might not agree and engage in crucial discussions around the values we hold and what we care about,” writes Annie Fortnow, JumpSpark Engagement Manager, about her experience with the program. “Bringing these experiences to our youth will only help strengthen the compassion in our society now and in the future.”
At a time when many teens are grappling with uncertain futures and diminished opportunities as a result of COVID-19, Honeycomb provides opportunities for meaningful community engagement and skill-building that set youth up for success later in life. Teaching teens how they can move the needle on issues they care about through collective giving lays the foundation for a generation of knowledgeable, compassionate givers.
“Giving is a lifelong journey, and it’s important to start as early as possible,” said Wayne Green, Executive Director of Honeycomb. “Through this program, we hope to set the tone for a lifetime of giving and connection to community. Imagine the impact someone can make on the world if they begin giving at a young age.”
Interested in bringing teen giving circles to your community? Learn more at Honeycomb.org.
Philanthropy Together aims to strengthen and scale the giving circle movement by working with giving circle networks like Honeycomb. Learn more at philanthropytogether.org.