From the Professional Staff

Any Given Sunday: San Diego’s Jewish Teen Service Summit

By Jeff Tiell on December 7th, 2016

On a Sunday earlier this month, I witnessed the burgeoning future of Jewish teen education in San Diego. As part of the new Motiv Initiative–the Jewish Teen Initiative in San Diego supported by the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, the Lawrence Family JCC, Jacobs Family Campus, and the Jim Joseph Foundation—hundreds of teens came to learn about, and to do, service at its first Teen Service Summit.

The Summit, which was well attended and filled with opportunities to engage in and to create meaningful Jewish service experiences, offers a brief case study of sorts for effective teen engagement.

First, a number of workshops throughout the day led by charismatic and passionate adults addressed everything from Passion to Profit: Social Entrepreneurship to Gaming for Good: Using Entertainment to Give Back to Telling Your Service Story Through Poetry and Performance. The Social Entrepreneurship workshop was led by Sarah Hernholm, Founder of Whatever It Takes (WIT), an organization that helps launch teen entrepreneur endeavors. Teens were challenged in the workshop to share what they care about, or challenges in peoples’ lives they want to address, and envision ways they could create change for good with help from WIT and fellow teens within the program. They shared their concern for environmental degradation of our oceans, for physical fitness and healthy eating, and a strong desire to tackle substance abuse.

At a fundamental level this session was about engaging teens where they are and making the intimidating (coming up with a great social entrepreneurship idea) reachable, doable, and fun.


Second, the Summit showcased scores of service and community-based organizations at its Non-Profit Expo. So, while engaging in inspiring and thought-provoking workshops, and meeting Jewish peers with similar interests and ambitions, teens also learned about the many relatively easy ways they could engage in Jewish service. I engaged with a number of organizations – both Jewish and secular – in this space, including Repair the World, Mitzvah Corps, Feeding America, Jewish Family Service, and the Surfrider Foundation to name just a few.

Third, the afternoon session was actually devoted to service, where organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Keshet, Kitchens for Good, ReSurf, The Thirst Project, and more engaged teens in service with underprivileged neighborhoods and their community. It was a moving and motivating day of learning and action.


To my mind though, what makes Motiv’s launch and this Summit all the more inspiring is that it is a part of a larger service constellation. Indeed, I was privileged to attend Service Matters: A Summit on Jewish Service hosted by Repair the World in September in New York. As I have shared, service increasingly is a central part of lives for Jewish millennials; often it is the primary way they engage in Jewish life and learning. Partly driving this and partly as a result of this, numerous Jim Joseph Foundation grantees are building, testing, and learning about new platforms and models to engage more people and organizations in meaningful service and related Jewish learning. Organizations, their staffs, and boards, are asking significant questions about how to make service authentic for both the teens who are serving and for the populations with whom they serve; about who benefits and how to act as good partners; and about how to truly work with teens to drive change.

Over recent years, investments in research and experiments in the Jewish service field have brought our community closer to fully answering these questions. More and more organizations that engage teens and young adults recognize the immense promise in engaging youth in service—and will continue to seek answers to these questions. The Teen Service Summit in San Diego engaged teens in that community in new ways, showing the vast offerings in Jewish service, offering space for learning and growth, and offering the opportunity for them to create meaningful Jewish experiences.

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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.