4Front Reimagines Teen Offerings in Response to Trends

In response to changing trends in teen engagement, as well as changes to programming in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, 4Front, the comprehensive Jewish teen initiative managed by the JCC, is redesigning its signature offerings. 

This fall, 4Front will expand its menu of experiences and launch several new concepts, including niche programming and shorter sessions, so teens can participate in a variety of engaging opportunities that appeal to their diverse interests. 

From focusing on the 2020 election to exploring investigative journalism to volunteering to help the community, teens will have more options to choose from and more ways to engage. All programs will continue to offer Jewish content to allow participants to explore their Jewish identity in ways that are relevant to them. 

“This was our chance to be innovative as we responded to trends in both the teen world, in general, and the teen world related to the coronavirus. We are offering many programs with shorter durations without compromising content and the rich social experiences,” says Rabbi Dena Shaffer, Executive Director of 4Front. 

That means that teens can expect to see some programs that previously met throughout the school year, like the Social Innovation Fellowship and STAC (Students Taking Action for Change), now condensed into short-term intensive experiences that meet once a week over a six to 12 week period. This gives participants a chance to delve into the full curriculum, while freeing them up to try other experiences later in the year. 

Yet, for those high schoolers who only may be interested in taking a deep dive into components of a particular program, they can now find opportunities in topic-driving “pop-ups.”  

For example, STAC is offering a pop-up on the 2020 election, that includes discussions on the role of money in politics and the ins and outs of campaigning. The session will also offer a chance to stage a presidential debate and join in a live election watch party.  

All options were created with the expectation that 4Front’s programming would need to be nimble this fall, with the possibility of bouncing between virtual and in-person gatherings. 

Not all programs are moving to the shorter time frame. The Diller Teen Fellowship, an immersive leadership program in which Baltimore teens also interact with their Ashkelon peers, and Peer Leaders Fellowship, which trains teens to be community organizers, will continue as year-long initiatives. 

The idea to reformat many of its offerings had been in the works for about a year, says Diana Solomon, Director of Innovation at 4Front. Some of these changes came from what staff had been hearing from the teens who participated in their programs. Yet the current situation, she adds, “gave us a chance to shake things up.” 

Many teens, they learned, don’t want to participate in a program for an entire year. Some teens had packed schedules at certain times of the school year, particularly during sports season, that didn’t give them time to make a lasting commitment. And, others, found the interview process a barrier. 

With some of these new “pop-ups,” like the reimagined Teen Service Council, teens no longer have to go through a lengthy interview process.  

The Teen Service Council, which is focused on hands-on service learning, now features individual “pop-up” service projects and participants can pick the ones of interest to them. 

4Front’s new format also lends itself to the opportunity to create new experiences based on teens’ personal interests.  

“If a teen is interested in a topic – say culinary arts, for example – they can let us know and if there is a way we can incorporate a Jewish lens, we can help them make it a reality,” says Shaffer.   

In addition to the six signature programs currently offered by the 4Front professionals, the hub also serves as a communal resource, a one-stop shop for Jewish teens and their families in Baltimore.  

“For those teens not interested in our signature offerings, but who want to connect Jewishly, we are able to help them find something that fits their interests,” says Shaffer.  

This includes connecting teens to the more than 60 organizations 4Front partners with throughout the Baltimore community. These opportunities range from synagogue offerings and youth groups to Jewish arts experiences and volunteer engagement. 

4Front, launched 4 years ago, was designed to provide Jewish teens and the adults who care about them a place to network and collaborate. It is funded through a matching grant from The Jim Joseph Foundation and support from The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, The Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds and other local donors. 

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