NFTY: Connecting With Youth
Guest Column by Adam Griff
As one year ends and another begins, it’s a great time to both reflect and look forward. Personally, I began a new job in February as the regional director of youth engagement for NFTY Southern Area Region and the Union for Reform Judaism. As if that title weren’t long enough, I also serve as the Machon director for URJ Camp Coleman, which is the staff-in-training program for 12th-graders.
Because most people have no idea what I actually do, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share both some successes of the past year and some goals for the coming one.
My job really has five parts to it. The first is serving as a mentor and adviser for the six teens who’ve been elected to NFTY-SAR regional board.
It is inspiring to work with such a passionate and dedicated group of teens. Three of the six hail from greater Atlanta, and the others live in Charlotte, Jacksonville and Columbia.
The past several months, the board members have worked to reimagine our annual leadership weekend to be more inclusive and offer more skills-based training. They’ve expanded the opportunities for leadership at the regional level by creating several appointed positions. In the year to come, we hope to deepen the content of our programming at regional events and to create some programmatic themes that continue throughout the entire year, rather than focus on just one event at a time.
The second part of my job is working with the regional board and with local youth groups and their advisers to plan and run seven weekend events during the year. This past year we served 531 unique teens (316 from greater Atlanta) at our regional events, each of them attending on average two or three events.
New for this coming year, we are offering a winter break ski trip for middle-schoolers. We’ll also be offering a few half-day events for middle-schoolers in targeted geographic areas in Atlanta.
The third part of my job is serving as a resource and consultant to congregations looking to strengthen their youth programs.
This year I’ve helped to recruit three new youth professionals in Atlanta and one in Charlotte to attend a new national training program for youth workers offered by the Union for Reform Judaism. These four advisers from our region will be part of a cohort of 40 youth workers from around the country who will participate in in-person and online trainings throughout the year.
I’m also working with several small congregations in Atlanta to start or expand their youth programs.
The fourth part of my job is one of the most exciting and rewarding. Our region has partnered with our sister region in South Florida for many years to run a program called Camp Jenny, which gives children from F.L. Stanton Elementary School the opportunity to receive the love of big “brothers and sisters,” three nutritious meals a day, fun camp activities, and encouragement for the future during Memorial Day weekend at Camp Coleman.
This year will be the 30th anniversary of the program, and we are already working to plan a special event honoring all of those who have contributed to its success. Along with the regional director from South Florida, I work with our congregations and teens to raise approximately $75,000 each year for this program.
Teens apply to be staff for the camp, serving as counselors, unit heads, specialists and even the directors. It’s truly an inspiring program and provides a remarkable experience for both the NFTY teens and the F.L. Stanton students.
Finally, I serve as the Camp Coleman Machon director. My first summer at Coleman was fantastic. I had a great group of Machon to work with, and I look forward to seeing many of them come back as staff next summer.
This past summer I worked with some of the camp’s specialists to develop an internship program for Machon. We also piloted a joint program with Mitzvah Corps: 12 of our Machon traveled to Costa Rica for 10 days of service work before continuing their summer at camp.
Next summer we’ll be offering a new service opportunity, and I look forward to further integrating my camp and NFTY roles.
Adam Griff is the regional director of youth engagement for the North American Federation of Temple Youth’s Southern Area Region.