Learning philanthropy at an early age through the Columbus Jewish Foundation

Learning philanthropy at an early age through the Columbus Jewish Foundation
by JoAnne Viviano

August 24, 2012


From left, Lauren Levy, Carlin Coffey and Phil Schuss are among central Ohio teens who donate a total of $20,000 a year through a Columbus Jewish Foundation program.

When Phil Schuss finished fifth grade, his final year at Columbus Jewish Day School, he was given $500 to spend however he saw fit — sort of.

The money wasn’t for video games or skateboards or pizza. It was for giving.

It went into a fund at the Columbus Jewish Foundation, and Schuss draws from it only to make philanthropic donations. Now a senior at Bexley High School, he has contributed to such groups as the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and the Skate for Hope fundraiser for breast-cancer research.

He’s among dozens of Jewish teens in central Ohio who donate a total of about $20,000 each year through the Mitzi & Henry Saeman B’nai Tzedek Youth Philanthropy Program at the foundation.

About $250,000 has been donated to more than 100 organizations through the program since it was established about 12 years ago, said Debby Applefeld, the foundation’s director of youth philanthropy. Individual gifts range from a couple of dollars to several thousand.

B’nai Tzedek is a Hebrew term often translated as “children of justice,” and similar funds have become common in Jewish communities across North America. Youngsters are often encouraged to initiate them with gifts received at their bar or bat mitzvahs, coming-of-age rituals in the Jewish faith.

The funds make donating easy for high-school students who otherwise might have difficulty getting started, Schuss said.

“Without this program, I don’t think I’d be doing nearly as much as I have done,” he said.

The Columbus program requires a child to offer at least $125 to get a fund up and running. That’s matched dollar-for-dollar by the foundation and doubled by a Mitzi & Henry Saeman fund. The youth or family members can add to accounts at any time.Some teens designate a portion of income — 10?percent of all baby-sitting money, for example — to his or her fund, Applefeld said.

Jackie Jacobs, the foundation’s CEO, said the objective is to create a new generation of philanthropists, allowing the teens to make their own decisions and to feel good about them.

“One is not born being a philanthropist,” he said. “You learn the skill, and we really want to help them learn the lesson well.”

Bexley High School senior Carlin Coffey said it’s a tradition to have a service project coincide with a bat mitzvah celebration, and she used at least half the money she received at hers to start a foundation fund. She most recently gave to the Pelotonia bicycle ride that raises money for cancer research.

Lauren Levy, a junior at New Albany High School, said she’s in her third year of the program and also started after her bat mitzvah celebration.

“It’s exciting to be able to donate money to charitable organizations that I’ve volunteered for,” she said. Among them is LifeTown, an indoor “city” built to help children with disabilities learn life skills.

Teens often mature through the program, first by giving to different groups without a lot of forethought — perhaps a cause they heard about in school or a charity supported by someone they know — and later directing donations to areas that become important to them, Applefeld said.

“As they grow through the program,” she said, “our goal is that kids will develop a thoughtful strategy about where they want to make an impact in the world.”

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