Times could have been tough for Young Judaea.
The Hadassah-sponsored Zionist youth group no longer receives national financial support for its local programs and overnights.
There are no longer any paid staff positions in Pittsburgh to support the youth group, which serves children from grades three through 12 in western Pennsylvania and parts of West Virginia and Ohio.
Local programs must now be “financially self-sustained,” said Daniel Cardonick, director of American programs, Young Judaea/Hadassah.
So in western Pennsylvania, Young Judaea has gone back to its roots as a peer-led and volunteer driven movement.
That move may finally be paying off as Western Pennsylvania Young Judaea seems to be enjoying a resurgence. With alumni and other volunteers stepping up to help high school and college students organize events, participation is actually
“It’s working out very well,” said Nina Kaplan, area youth commissioner for Young Judaea. “People are stepping up because they know how worthwhile it is.”
Young Judaea used to have one paid staff member, who resigned last May. At that time, Kaplan began enlisting volunteers to keep the group going. As a result, when national Young Judaea made the decision to terminate all local paid staff positions this year, Pittsburgh’s volunteer force was already in full operation.
“We had already established the model ourselves last year,” Kaplan said. “We already had the prototype in place.”
“We have fabulous people who have stepped up and volunteered,” said Lynda Heyman, president of Hadassah, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter. “Things are better than they were last year. We have more kids engaged, and more parents involved. We’re getting fresh ideas, and the older kids are getting more leadership
“The number of kids in attendance has gone up,” Kaplan said, attributing the increase in participation, in part, to better communication and outreach on the part of the Young Judaeans themselves.
Young Judaea has been scheduling events every month, and is also engaging in joint projects with other youth groups, said Kaplan, such as last week’s Purim Masquerade Ball, and J-Serve’s community service event in April.
Although funding for local programs has been cut, Hadassah still provides scholarships for children to attend camp, and other programs, such as summer tours and yearlong courses in Israel.
Registration in each of Young Judaea’s five summer camps across North America is strong this year, according to Noah Gallagher, director of Camp Young Judaea Midwest. And there is a rise in the number of campers from the Pittsburgh area, despite the economy.
“Twenty percent of our kids did summer programs last year,” said Heyman, “and we probably helped at least half of them with scholarships.” She added that Hadassah’s local chapter would have the same amount of funds available for scholarships this year.
In addition to helping kids out with scholarship funds, the local chapter of Hadassah is also still working with Young Judaea by providing resources, supplies, and financial assistance when necessary, Heyman said.
“Our hope is that the programs will be self-sufficient,” said Heyman “but if not, we are there to support them.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)