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Saltzman Youth Panel engages students in philanthropy

Read this story in the Cleveland Jewish News

The Saltzman Youth Panel, a program of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, brings together Cleveland Jewish high school juniors and seniors to deliberate how to distribute $42,750 in charitable funding to improve the Jewish community, along with $7,500 to the general community.

Shirley Saltzman and family established the panel in 1998 in honor of Maurice Saltzman, a former Federation president. Under the direction of Ann Garson and Leora Hoenig, students met one Sunday a month between September and May, in addition to Super Sunday, iDay, and other “dialathons.”

In the first meeting, panelists altered a covenant for communicating adapted from Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York City’s Brit Lashon HaTov. This outlined how panelists would act, discuss, and deliberate every session.

For example, the covenant included such resolutions as “we will speak for ourselves, and when appropriate, as representatives of a group”; “we will share airtime and refrain from interrupting others” and “we will, when appropriate, ‘take-five’ if we find that we are no longer able to listen with an open and clear mind.”

After creating this, panelists began narrowing all of their Jewish values and community down to three. After coming up with an extensive list, one panelist led the deliberation. In the end, after multiple discussions and votes, the three Jewish values became Talmud Torah (Jewish learning), tikkun olam (healing the world), and pikuach nefesh (saving life).

The top three community needs were identified as social services, education, and community sustainability. The agencies submitting grant requests had to tailor their proposal to the six categories, unique to this group of Saltzman Youth panelists.

After pairs of panelists interviewed Federation agencies that applied for funding and presented the results to their peers, the group was ready to approach the grant requests and start deciding how to allocate the money.

The first set of grant requests, of which $42,500 had to be allocated, was earmarked for the Jewish community. These requests totaled $105,380. Topics that came up when deciding how to eliminate grants included the number of people a project would impact, breadth vs. depth of the grant, if the grant fit the six values, and if the panelists felt the money would be used well.

After months of eliminating grant requests, bringing in speakers and arguing ideas, panelists figured out a way to allocate the designated money to the agencies they deemed worthy. Then, the final wave of requests for funding came in, not from the Jewish community. Various agencies asked for a total of $15,000 in funds but panelists had only $7,500 to disburse. Following the same process, panelists managed in only three hours to compromise on a way to allot the money.

The Saltzman Youth Panel is not only about philanthropy and distributing money. Panelists also interview older relatives about what “money message” they received as children and what such message they wished to pass down to the next generation. Panelists also discussed the future of the Jewish community and visions they had for themselves. Each panelist also made his or her own pledge to the annual Campaign for Jewish Needs.

At the final meeting, panelists presented their request for the grants to the board of trustees, who approved the recommendations.

The Saltzman Youth Panel voted to award funding to the following agencies and their projects: Agnon School’s community service project, focused on Jewish values and social emotional learning; American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s backpacks for Ethiopian-Israeli children as they enter first grade; Gross Schechter Day School’s community service project; Hebrew Shelter Home’s backup generator, to provide safety and stability for the residents; food for the Federation’s Kosher Food Bank; the Federation’s health and sex education for Ethiopian teenage girls in Afula, Israel; Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage’s transportation program to bring in students; Mandel Jewish Community Center’s day camp for youth with disabilities; Menorah Park Foundation’s training for rehabilitation therapists for Parkinson’s patients; Family Promise of Greater Cleveland’s program to provide school needs to the children; Linking Employment Abilities and Potential’s program to prepare youth with disabilities in thhe Cleveland Municipal School District for post-school success; The Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland’s educational service to youth who lack alternative medical care; and Youth Opportunities Unlimited’s program to help at-risk youth graduate and get on track toward a successful adulthood.