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New York, NY, January 5, 2015--The Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) was the proud recipient of a $25,000 Jewish United Fund (JUF) Breakthrough Fund Grant awarded to NFTY Chicago Area Region (NFTY CAR), to host a leadership training program for teens and staff across Jewish denominations in Chicago.
NFTY Chicago was among 17 recipients awarded grants totaling $1 million to enhance opportunities for engagement in Jewish life and programs. NFTY Chicago's grant proposal expressed a desire to engage with other youth movements and teach leadership skills to bolster their respective movements, congregations, and the larger Chicago Jewish community.
"The Breakthrough Fund reminds us that innovation is taking place right here in Chicago's Jewish community," said David Sherman, chairman of the Breakthrough Fund review committee. "The passion and vision of this community is inspiring and we are so proud and grateful to award grants to these 17 initiatives so that they can take necessary and strategic risks that will ultimately impact Chicago's Jewish future in remarkable ways."
NFTY Chicago used the grant to implement the event, which was held this fall at URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) and included regional staff of NFTY, United Synagogue Youth (USY), NCSY, and Jewish Student Connection (JSC), as well as 50 teens from each of these movements and BBYO, for a weekend to learn concrete leadership skills, share best practices, and engage in an open dialogue.
The event provided leadership training focused on building community, experiential education, and relational conversations intended to promote membership growth across all movements.
"The weekend established a strong foundation for future collaborative work in Chicago's Jewish community, and provided a stellar leadership training experience that our teens and professionals can draw from to strengthen their local youth groups, clubs, and chapters," said Logan Zinman, NFTY Chicago Director of Youth Engagement.
In a post-event evaluation, one teen wrote, "I learned a lot about others' customs and why that empowers them" and "to be open to new experiences." Another commenter also plans to "implement a widespread use of relational conversations to gain more members," "reach out to those who were here this weekend," and "observe and pay more attention to the people around me."
The evaluation of the program will help strengthen future leadership collaboration between organizations. Membership growth will be tracked across the next year to gauge the effectiveness of a relationship-centric model of youth engagement.
NFTY Chicago is working with partner movements to allocate the remaining grant dollars to maximize the impact of the NFTY Chicago's pilot program, and provide additional learning opportunities for more teens.
For 75 years, NFTY (the Reform Jewish Youth Movement) has offered thousands of young people in grades 6-12 the opportunity to explore and live Reform Judaism. Through programming offered by Reform congregations, 19 geographic NFTY regions, and on a North American level, teens are encouraged to forge Jewish identities in consonance with the values of Reform Judaism. Participation in NFTY helps teens build confidence, friendships and leadership skills through experiential peer-led programming including social justice projects, worship, and community-building initiatives. NFTY is part of the network of youth programs and camps of the Union for Reform Judaism.