In the January/February 2023 issue, we spoke with Jackie Kleinstein, the senior manager of community engagement at the Stroum Jewish Community Center, about engaging teen programs.
What are some ways your organization is currently engaging teens in the community?
We offer a variety of volunteer opportunities through our Mitzvah Corps, as well as teen-specific programs to help them make friends and connect with their Jewish values. The Giving Initiative for Teens (GIFT) empowers high schoolers to work with other philanthropic teens to find local nonprofits that reflect their Jewish values and raise money to support these organizations. In GIFT, teens learn they’re not too young to use their voices to make a tangible change.
In our Teen Peer Groups, sixth through ninth graders have safe spaces to talk about how their Jewish values and traditions can help them navigate growing up. Teens can select the group that fits their gender identity — female identifying; male identifying; non-binary/gender-fluid/gender-questioning. Every month, trained mentors lead the groups through conversations, creative rituals, drama and art to guide them toward empowerment and self-confidence.
How has your organization adjusted to serving new teen generations? What differences have you observed?
While many of our programs have returned to in-person, we have kept a virtual option available in most programs. This ensures geography and transportation won’t limit a teen’s ability to be involved and engaged.
As the pandemic has shifted, we’ve learned the mental health of teens must be at the forefront of all programming. We partnered with local organizations to offer a series of workshops for teens and parents with topics from best practices in the digital age to healthy relationships.
Helping teens connect has changed. Extracurricular activities are more expansive, and the pressure to succeed can be overwhelming. Providing a safe place to share, learn and connect is crucial.
How has the pandemic changed how your organization engages teens?
Our mission to create a safe and welcoming place for teens in our community hasn’t changed; however, the way we connect has. So much was lost during the pandemic, and teens and tweens were disconnected in many ways. Virtual programming wasn’t the norm at the JCC pre-pandemic, but now we know there’s a lot of value in it. We need to continue to create opportunities for meaningful connections and greater accessibility in a virtual setting — beyond simply adding a Zoom link to meetings.
What is your best advice for engaging teens in 2023?
My best advice is to be bold and try new things. We’ve been given an opportunity to stop and reflect on what really matters. What used to fit may no longer be applicable. Change is hard and scary, but until you try you won’t know if you’ll succeed. Learn from your mistakes, make adjustments and improve.