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Young Philanthropists at Work at Tehiyah Day School

Seventh-graders at Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito gain hands-on knowledge of philanthropy by creating their own mini-foundations, raising money and selecting worthy recipients to receive grants.

Each year, ’s seventh-grade students take part in an important, and hopefully lifelong, lesson about the importance of philanthropy and charity in a more tangible way than in any of their previous school experiences. Throughout the year, through study and action, the seventh-graders learn about the importance of Tz’dakah, which translates as charity or acts of righteousness, and is one of the key tenets of Judaism. This hands-on program is the culmination of many years of classroom discussions of the importance of philanthropy and charity in Jewish values and culture.

The seventh-grade program was initiated several years ago to reinforce the importance and the value of giving and sharing what you have. Beginning early in the school year, seventh-graders are divided into small groups based on social or environmental issues about which they are passionate. These groups become "mini-foundations.” Students attend workshops to learn how to choose a name for their mini-foundation, develop a mission statement, build a team, establish consensus, write donation request letters, and understand how donating money is only one way to support an organization.

Seventh-grade families each donate a relatively small amount of money into an account that serves as the seed money for the student project. Each mini-foundation is allocated a set amount of the seed money, which becomes their mini-foundation’s budget. That seed money is supplemented by money the seventh-graders raise themselves through a variety of fundraisers and direct appeals. Many students are also moved by this process to donate their own money.

Each mini-foundation reviews local, national, and international nonprofits working on their issue of interest, and evaluate and compare their missions, business statements and activities. If a decision is made that a grantee is worthy of a donation, the students must decide how much of their budget to allocate. Occasionally, organizations are invited to present their mission and work personally to the seventh-graders.

On Friday, June 10, the seventh-grade students presented the results of their year-long project to their fellow middle school students, teachers and parents. They presented information about their selected issues and why they are important, and presented checks to recipients of the mini-foundation grants, enlarging everyone’s knowledge and awareness of important issues and the worthy organizations working towards solutions. Together, the students raised and donated more than $5,000.

The value of giving is such an integral part of a Tehiyah Day School education that it is a key part of our Middle School Student Council’s mission, and Tehiyah alumni have been honored as Emerging Philanthropists.

For more information about this program or Tehiyah Day School, call our admissions director, Amy Utstein, at 233-3013 ext. 129, or email autstein@tehiyah.org.

Donna Sidel is a long-time resident of El Cerrito and the director of communications for Tehiyah Day School.

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