As organizations across the country continue to seek ways to empower the next generation to serve as effective Jewish leaders, the Chicago-based Crain-Maling Foundation has announced plans to fund a new Midwest NCSY leadership training initiative for college-age advisors.
The Crain-Maling Jewish Leaders Mentorship Program (JLMP) will provide a variety of hands-on, training and leadership opportunities for nearly three dozen college-age advisors, who currently serve as volunteer mentors to Midwest NCSY’s teens. The program is expected to impact nearly 500 teens throughout the region, who will strengthen their Jewish connection and commitment as a result of their interactions with advisors.
“There are thousands of Jewish college students who are active in Jewish life but who lack the skills to serve as Jewish leaders,” says Midwest NCSY Regional Director Rabbi Donny Schwartz. “At the same time, there are thousands of Jewish teens who are eager to learn more about their Jewish heritage but need mentors to make Judaism real and meaningful. This program addresses both those needs, giving college students hands-on training to inspire today’s teens and become Jewish leaders in the long term.”
Midwest NCSY’s advisors typically meet teens at local or regional Shabbatons, and then maintain contact via phone, email and/or social media. Through the Learning On Line (LOL) Program, advisors also study Judaism one-on-one with teens, using a text of the teen’s choosing.
With support from the Crain-Maling Foundation, Midwest NCSY has hired a Jewish outreach professional to meet regularly with the advisors, provide them with continuing education, and mentor them on-one-on as they face the inevitable challenges that arise when guiding today’s teens. Midwest NCSY will also continue to match advisors with teens looking for one-on-one mentors, and provide advisors with more opportunities to serve in leadership roles at both its large-scale regional conventions and smaller chapter Shabbatons.
Rebecca Brown, a New Orleans native currently spending her gap year in Israel, calls it “lifechanging.”
“It’s crazy that I’m in Israel,” she says, “because where I come from, Jewish girls don’t go to Israel.”
Rebecca was active in NCSY during her high school years in Memphis, and she credits NCSY, and Advisor Sarah Immerman in particular, for encouraging her to further her Jewish education in Israel.
“Sarah has been there for me throughout my Jewish journey. I know I can call her at any point and go to her with any kind of problem,” says Rebecca. “And the best part is that she never tells me what to do. She listens and guides me, and then she tells me, ‘You can figure it out.’”
For Sarah, a long-time NCSY advisor now pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology, it’s been an “honor” to be a part of Rebecca’s life.
“Rebecca is devoted to living a life of meaning and purpose. I have loved watching her wrestle with her growth, with her relationship with G-d, and with her relationship with herself,” says Sarah. “Rebecca amazes me in so many ways – with her passion, with her curiosity, and with her courage.”
Sarah adds that one of the reasons she is pursuing a career in adolescent clinical psychology is because of the time she spent as an advisor.
“My NCSYers have absolutely played a role in my own development – personal, professional, religious and emotional,” she says. “Being an advisor – and putting myself in a situation of being a mentor and a role model – has also helped me hold myself to the standards I wish to be held.”
Rebecca and Sarah are just one of dozens of pairs of Jewish college students and teens linked through Midwest NCSY. And with JLMP, the advisors will now be even better equipped to play a meaningful role in helping every teen navigate his or her own personal path to Judaism.
“The Crain-Maling Foundation has long been synonymous with Jewish education and Jewish continuity,” says Midwest NCSY’s Rabbi Schwartz. “Thanks to their support, this program will create a cadre of Jewish leaders ready to inspire teens today and assume leadership roles in their communities in the future.”
Photo captions: (Middle) NCSYer Rebecca Brown (l.) and Advisor Sarah Immerman consider themselves “sisters,” having shared Rebecca’s Jewish journey throughout high school and beyond. (Bottom) NCSY teens and advisors from last summer’s TJJ trip to Israel for public school teens.