One day, during Peyton Klein’s freshman year at Taylor Allderdice High School, she realized that although for months she had been sitting in front of the same girl — a Syrian refugee — she didn’t even know her name.
Klein had assumed that just because her classmate wore a hijab, she did not speak English, and Klein had not bothered to get to know her.
When the two girls finally became friends, the experience changed not only Klein’s life, but ultimately the lives of hundreds of other high school students throughout North America.
Klein, who is now a high school sophomore, is the founder of Global Minds Initiative, an after-school tutoring program between native English speakers and those for whom English is a second language.
Begun at Pittsburgh Allderdice last year, Global Minds is now offered in 11 schools in six states, with another offshoot in Canada.
Klein, along with Israa Abdulmuttaleb, one of the student participants in Global Minds, will speak at the Ladies Who Lunch program on Dec. 5 at the Center for Women on Murray Avenue.
The program, entitled “Making Pittsburgh Home: Two Organizations Work to Solve the Refugee Crisis,” will also feature Jordan Golin, president and CEO of Jewish Family and Community Services, and Jamie Englert, director of immigration legal services for JFCS.
The program is being sponsored by Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Jewish Women’s Foundation.
We are a tiny foundation, but we have leveraged our women’s energy, capacity and grant-making and have been making these amazing investments.
Global Minds got “incredible media attention” last year, Klein said, which included articles in Teen Vogue and The New York Times and an appearance on the “Today” show. The exposure led teachers from all over the world to reach out to Pittsburgh’s Klein, now 16, to bring Global Minds to their own schools.
Global Minds soon developed a curriculum to share with other schools across the country, aiming to achieve the same positive outcomes in other locales that were already in place at Pittsburgh Allderdice.
The outcomes may seem small, but they are large in impact, according to Klein. They include making sure that students who are immigrants are not sitting alone at lunch, or just waving hello in the hallway to a student new to this country.
“These are small things, but they are steps in the right direction,” said Klein.
The work being done by Global Minds is precisely the type of project supported by the JWF, a collaboration of 154 local women philanthropists who provide grants “through a gender lens,” said Judy Greenwald Cohen, executive director of JWF of Greater Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s chapter of JWF was founded in 2000 and since that time has bestowed funding for a variety of initiatives, including an anti-bullying program at Community Day School, a Healthy Teen program at the Squirrel Hill Health Center and STEM education at Yeshiva Girls’ School.
Other grants have gone to the Jewish Association on Aging, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and the Homeless Children’s Education Fund.
Grants go to both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, said Cohen, which allows JWF to “bring Jewish values to the general community and to bring the work of the general community to us.”
At least 50 percent of the grants are awarded to Jewish groups, she said.
The JWF investors, through annual contributions of $2,000 each, have built an endowment of $1.5 million and have invested more than $940,000 into the community, according to Cohen.
“We are a tiny foundation, but we have leveraged our women’s energy, capacity and grant-making and have been making these amazing investments,” she said.
The foundation’s investments are often made with an eye toward identifying a need that may not be obvious, but if addressed, will have an enormous impact.
These are small things, but they are steps in the right direction.
A new grant to the Jewish Healthcare Foundation that will train immigrants to become doulas and a $5,000 grant to Global Minds to support a group of immigrant/refugee girls and native English-speaking girls to participate together in a program at the Pittsburgh Musical Theater, in partnership with ARYSE (Alliance for Refugee Youth Support and Education), called “Music the Universal Language.”
“The immigrant and refugee youth will work with the PMT Transitions students to help produce a showcase surrounding welcoming, inclusivity and kindness, bridging diverse youth through the arts,” said Klein, who acknowledged JWF’s support.
JWF favors collaboration and often partners with other groups to run or fund projects.
“We want to give money away, and we are always looking for meaningful projects to invest in,” Cohen said.
To grow the future of women’s philanthropy in Pittsburgh, JWF last year launched its Young Women’s Giving Society. Aiming to “educate young women on the power of their philanthropy,” Cohen said, JWF was able to recruit 18 participants — women ranging in age from 25 to 40 — in its pilot year.
The young women each contributed $300 to join the group, with JWF supplying up to $10,000 in matching funds. The grants made by the Young Women’s Giving Society focused on projects benefitting adolescent girls, said Cohen.
JWF, in collaboration with CDS, NCJW, JFCS and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, will be hosting speaker Lisa Hinkelman, the founder and executive director of Ruling Our eXperiences — a program that focuses on wellness for adolescent girls — on Dec. 13.
Hinkelman, who lives in Ohio but is originally from Pittsburgh, recently conducted a national study that surveyed more than 10,000 girls on their thoughts, behaviors and perceptions on issues including self-esteem, relationships, social media and school. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at