How we learn how to give back

How we learn how to give back

By Austin Matloff, Special to the Jewish Sound

J-Team is an innovative, hands-on program that introduces Jewish teens in the Seattle area to the field of charitable giving. In the early fall of each year, any Jewish high school student in the Seattle area is eligible to apply to be a part of J-Team. Once accepted into the program, each student member participates in a wide assortment of philanthropic-related activities throughout the school year. These activities range from discussion about fundraising techniques and criteria for evaluating charitable organizations, to individual and group research projects on the objectives and effectiveness of various charities, to site visits where students can interview members of different charities and observe these charities in action, to boardroom-type meetings where students debate and decide how money collected from fundraising and family donations will be allocated among the charities.

I am a junior at Bellevue High School, and this is my third year as part of J-Team. J-Team has been a fantastic learning experience for me on many different levels. The program certainly has taught me about how various charities — both national and local, religious and secular — are founded and operated, and about which particular groups of people in our society benefit from each of these charities.

In addition, J-Team has exposed me to something as simple as group dynamics. In discussing with my fellow J-Team members the positives and negatives of different charities, I have learned how to listen to and respect the opinions and beliefs of my peers, how to argue passionately for the charities I most strongly support, and how to compromise and reach consensus on dividing our funds among the deserving charities. These skills I have acquired through J-Team have already helped me with group projects at school and even in negotiating with my friends about what we should do on a Saturday night.

Approaching the end of its fifth year, J-Team is currently going through a major change. For its first four years, J-Team operated as a part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. This year, however, J-Team became a part of Livnot Chai. Obviously, this type of shift presents both challenges and opportunities. While we have not been delving as deeply into individual charities as we have in years past, we have gained a much broader perspective on philanthropic donations in general.

J-Team has turned out to be an extremely valuable program that definitely will guide my charitable contributions for the rest of my life. J-Team has also helped me to create serious friendships with many other Jewish teens whose interests and passions are similar to my own. I highly recommend J-Team to any Jewish teen, especially those looking to find out more about philanthropy and give back to the community in a meaningful way.