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It’s the Youth’s Responsibility to Uphold:

Thoughts from a Teen Philanthropist

by Jordan Namerow and Leah Kaplan Robins

"Iwant to be part of a youth-driven philanthropic movement,” explained 19-year-old Emma Tuttleman- Kriegler. “I want to be in community with people who share my passions.”

Emma and a growing cohort of teens like her have redefined “philanthropy” in their own terms. Their vision of giving includes service and activism—and above all, building connections with others—as much as it does writing a check. When Emma traveled to Ghana as a participant in AJWS’s Volunteer Summer program last year she began to explore this concept in a meaningful way.

“Before volunteering in Ghana, I viewed tzedakah as a top-down deed: us giving to them. While volunteering, I learned that I actually have a lot in common with people in Ghana. I also learned that disadvantaged communities don’t only need our money; they need our trust and understanding. Through my volunteer service, I was able to give tzedakah a face, a name and a human connection—things that can be difficult to experience. I have begun to understand that tzedakah feels much more real when I have built relationships with the people who are benefiting from my financial support.”

This feeling of connectedness is at the core of many young people’s desire to serve. When Emma returned, she says, she “craved the connections I made with the people in Ghana and those on my trip. It was hard to find someone I could relate to who shared the same outlook on the world that I did.” But now, studying international development and philosophy at Tulane University, she has found the community she sought in her classes and through Global Service League, a student group.

In addition to on-campus activism, Emma has helped promote more traditional giving. She recently raised money for AJWS by giving a presentation at the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego, relating her volunteer experience to Jewish texts about tzedakah and tikkun olam, and sharing reflections about what it was like to practice Judaism abroad.

She is also a donor herself, giving to organizations that foster sustainability (such as micro-credit lending) and that address problems facing women and girls. AJWS remains a favorite cause: “I really believe in AJWS’s philosophy that partnership is key to sustainable development. I also think AJWS has an interesting perspective on philanthropy and what it means to participate responsibly in a global community.”

Emma believes that a volunteer experience is imperative for any budding philanthropist, especially for people her age. She says that service “provides a stronger connection to the poverty in the developing world,” and that having these experiences now will motivate young people to give more later in life.

“I think that is the deeper meaning behind service,” she says. “If you are exposed to people or the issues of poverty, especially at a young age, you become a more empathetic, well-rounded individual. It is so important to preserve the humanity and value system that is the youth’s responsibility to uphold.”

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About AJWS

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is an international development organization motivated by Judaism’s imperative to pursue justice. AJWS is dedicated to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease among the people of the developing world regardless of race, religion or nationality. Through grants to grassroots organizations, volunteer service, advocacy and education, AJWS fosters civil society, sustainable development and human rights for all people, while promoting the values and responsibilities of global citizenship within the Jewish community.

AJWS has received an “A” rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy since 2004 and a four-star rating from Charity Navigator for nine years. AJWS also meets all 20 of Better Business Bureau’s standards for charity accountability.


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