Community and teens reap rewards of philanthropy

A bat mitzvah project nine years ago has evolved into a program that continues to change lives and enrich community. The Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation unites high school students who have a deep interest in Jewish philanthropy and helping the community.

OJCYF teens visit Jewish and non-Jewish organizations to learn what they do and then the group allocates money to the organizations of their choice. In less than a decade, the 119 teens who have participated in OJCYF have raised and allocated more than $200,000 to Jewish and secular organizations.

As the giving grows, so do the current members and alumni who draw on their experiences as OJCYF members.

“Being in OJCYF truly taught me how to work in a group and team-setting to evaluate different opportunities from both a philanthropic and strategic perspective,” says Talia Goldberg, who is now a junior at University of Pennsylvania. “OJCYF also has enhanced my leadership skills so that this year I was able to successfully start my own group at Penn, STEP (Students for Tech & Entrepreneurship at Penn). STEP seeks to support and sponsor youth and social entrepreneurship whenever possible.”

Goldberg isn’t the only OJCYF alum to create a student group. Myles Bugbee started a debate series at Rice University.

“I founded the James A. Baker III Institute Student Debate Series, which features once-a-semester student policy debates that engage a broad range of students. I have organized events with diplomats such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, dignitaries like a former Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan, and leaders in the profit and non-profit worlds like General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt,” Bugbee says of his program.

OJCYF is sometimes the major factor that helps young teenagers stay Jewish and keep their Jewish roots.

“OJCYF was just confirmation for me that I wanted to live a Jewish life. Because of my strong connection to Judaism at a young age, it propelled me to study abroad in Israel my junior year,” says Julia Weiss, whose bat mitzvah project was the genesis of OJCYF. Weiss is now a senior at Pitzer College in Southern California.

The success of OJCYF alumni is just one way that one can see how truly amazing the organization is. Teens plan to share stories of OJCYF successes and alumni at their annual dinner May 1 (see box).

Goldberg says, “Find your passion and follow it. No matter what you do, work to be a leader in supporting or creating philanthropic opportunities. Also, keep in touch with your fellow OJCYFers, they will go on to do awesome things and it’s a great network to be a part of.”

A third-year OJCYF member, Josh Nudelman is a senior at Lake Oswego High School. He is the dinner chair for this year’s OJCYF benefit dinner.

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