New Teen Initiative Launches

This March, the Baltimore Jewish community is set to officially launch 4Front, its most comprehensive teen initiative to date.

Featuring a signature Social Innovation Fellowship, leadership programs, and social opportunities, 4Front will encourage teens to explore their Judaism in ways that are meaningful to them.

The initiative, directed by the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC and supported by The Associated and a five-year matching grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation, is targeted to increase Jewish teen engagement in Baltimore. Currently, only about 10 percent of Jewish teens locally participate in Jewish programming, says Rabbi Dena Shaffer, executive director of 4Front.

At the centerpiece of 4Front is a new Social Innovation Fellowship which will empower teens to tackle community issues through social entrepreneurship. Working with Startup Experience, an organization located on the West Coast, teens will learn about innovation and entrepreneurship, then create their own social innovation projects with their peers.

Participants will take trips to local innovation hubs, such as Open Works or Baltimore Impact Hub, as well as meet and learn from mentors. They also will travel to Israel during winter break, meeting their high school counterparts in Ashkelon and Odessa, Baltimore’s sister cities, as part of our global partnership.

Jewish values, history and contemporary thought will be incorporated into the nine-month experience. “We’ll delve deep into Jewish content and provide a grounding in Jewish values, beyond tikkun olam,” says Shaffer. “For example, we might look at how Abraham was one of the first Jewish innovators … we’ll explore Israel through its start-up nation story.”

4Front also has become the home of several teen leadership programs STAC (Students Taking Action for Change), TGI (Teen Giving Initiative), Diller Teen Fellows and the Teen Service Council. Previously managed by Jewish Volunteer Connection, these leadership programs have joined the 4Front constellation of teen programming.

“If you would like to develop leadership skills, you can opt to participate in one of our leadership programs,” says Randi Buergenthal, who is co-chair of 4Front with Becky Brenner. “At the same time, not everyone wants to be a leader. What’s great about 4Front is that Jewish teens now have many options housed in one place where they can come, connect and find their place in ways that are meaningful to them.”

As part of its mission, 4Front will offer a concierge service to match teens’ interests to the wealth of existing programs, such as BBYO, NFTY or USY. In addition, it will collaborate with many local and national organizations to provide rich and creative programming.

On March 5, 4Front will host iEngage (jcc.org/4Front), a one-day fair featuring teen opportunities in Baltimore, along with performances and speakers geared toward teens and their families.

To ensure a holistic approach to teen engagement, 4Front will include training and education for professionals working with teens and for lay leaders as well. The Teen Professionals Fellowship provides teen pros with the opportunity to deepen their skills to creatively integrate Judaism into their work. A Lay Advocates Network will provide community leaders with the tools to help them understand the development of teens so they can advocate for programs that support positive engagement.

“Over the years, as a community, we’ve invested in a number of thoughtful programs that address our younger population,” says Brenner. “We’ve supported Hillel, day schools, pre-b’nai mitzvah programs and young adult initiatives, like Moishe House. This initiative will help us serve teens and strengthen the true continuum of services our community offers.

When I talk to many adults, they talk about the bar or bat mitzvah being the pinnacle of their child’s Jewish experience. 4Front will provide Jewish content, connections and understanding so that as our teens continue on their journey to adulthood, Judaism will play a role in their decisions.”

The grant for 4Front was awarded with the framework of the Jim Joseph Foundation’s Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, comprised of national and local funders working together to expand and deepen community-based Jewish teen education. Currently, there are 10 communities nationwide participating in this Collaborative.

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