After three years of planning, 4Front, a new strategic initiative to engage local Jewish teenagers, has grown from an idea to a reality.
The community-wide program is aimed at increasing teen involvement in the local Jewish community, something that organizers say they recognize as crucial to Jewish continuity.
“Nationally, we know that only 10-25 percent of teens are engaged in Jewish programming,” said Rebecca Weinstock, assistant director of community planning for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “We want to raise that number and offer more avenues for teens to not only participate but co-create meaningful Jewish experiences.”
The Associated created 4Front and was awarded a five-year matching grant from the San Francisco-based Jim Joseph Foundation, an organization geared toward creating meaningful learning experiences for young Jews.
“4Front was created as a strategy to connect with the next generation, to foster a generation of successful and engaged Jewish teens … [and] to raise the teen voice in the community,” said Rabbi Dena Shaffer, executive director of 4Front.
As its name implies, 4Front employs a four-pronged approach that combines advocacy, collaboration, innovation and education in its mission.
“When it comes to Jewish programming in the teen world, there tends to be two ways of going about it,” said Rabbi Shaffer. “It’s either about adding new programs that match teenagers’ personal interests or it’s about cross-promoting things that are already happening in the community. The fact that 4Front is doing both simultaneously makes it special.”
Currently, 4Front oversees Diller Teen Fellows, the Teen Service Council, Students Taking Action for Change and the Teen Giving Initiative, all programs previously managed by Jewish Volunteer Connection, The Associated’s hands-on volunteer branch.
4Front also serves as a one-stop shop for local chapters of such groups as the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, the North American Federation of Temple Youth and United Synagogue Youth.
In addition, 4Front has created the Social Innovation Fellowship, a nine-month program beginning this fall.
“The Social Innovation Fellowship will utilize peer-to-peer engagement strategies to bring teens’ work to the broader community,” said Rabbi Shaffer. “They will spend the year prototyping, pitching and testing out their innovations while learning from industry experts about their particular social issue. The teens will also travel to Israel over winter break to learn about the country as a start-up nation.”
There are currently about 60 teens involved in the pre-existing JVC programs, as well as a 12-person teen advisory board.
Jordan Osterweil, a freshman at Franklin High School, is part of the teen advisory board. She said she is looking forward to having this new initiative in Baltimore.
“4Front gives teens a voice to advocate and make the changes they wish to see in the world, which is very crucial since most of society doesn’t listen to teens,” said Jordan. “Now, we have a uniform platform to come together and fight for what we believe in.”
While teenagers make up the core of 4Front, the program also focuses on adults who work closely with that age group.
“We hope to bring together teen professionals to provide them with community resources, networking and education in best practices,” said Becky Brenner, co-chair of 4Front’s adult advisory board. “We also plan to train some cohorts of lay ‘champions’ who will learn about teens, learn to love what teens are capable of doing, and advocate for ongoing resources for our Jewish teens in Baltimore.”
The Owings Mills Jewish Community Center will serve as the home base for 4Front and will be responsible for managing the program and overseeing its strategic development.
“The JCC’s middle name is community, and we want to reach as many teens within our community as possible,” said JCC of Greater Baltimore CEO Barak Hermann. “I believe the JCC has the desired skills and expertise to convene our community around this extremely important initiative.”
Rabbi Shaffer said she believes 4Front has the capacity to change the future of the local Jewish community.
“In Baltimore, we have such a mass of talent and leadership of people who really care about the Jewish future,” she said. “To provide a hub and a way to connect all of that talent … could be a game-changer in this community.”
For information, visit jcc.org/teens/4front.
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
Top and Bottom Photos: Courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore
Middle Photo of Rabbi Dena Shaffer, with canine pal Darby, by Melissa Gerr
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