Year Two of Important JumpSpark Programs

Year Two of Important JumpSpark Programs

JumpSpark, the new community initiative to engage teens in Jewish life has a new ally – parents. 

JumpSpark Atlanta promises a new look at working with Jewish teens in the community.
JumpSpark Atlanta promises a new look at working with Jewish teens in the community.

JumpSpark, the new community initiative to engage teens in Jewish life has a new ally – parents.  The program, which begins its second year of programming this month, has discovered that parents want to better understand the wants and needs of their teenagers.

Kelly Cohen, who heads JumpSpark in Atlanta, described a series called Navigating Parenthood as an important part in connecting not just with parents, but with teens, as well.

“I think that when we are serving the parents of our community, we are serving the teens of our community, and I think that has been a great learning experience.”

Specifically, she pointed to the success of a program in August at the Marcus JCC about anxiety in teens. It was not only a dialogue between teens and a trained facilitator, but included separate conversations about the issue with the more than 140 parents and community professionals who participated.

“When you see over a hundred parents saying this is something that I want to come out to, then you know you are tapping into a real need in the community. And I would say, consistently, through the Navigating Parenthood series, this kind of participation has helped us to feel that we are really onto something,” Cohen said.

The idea of reaching out to parents as well as to teens originated in a conversation Cohen had with a parent who was looking for help that was hard to find in the community.  There was plenty of help available for parents to get together with other new parents of infants to discuss the needs they had, but not much when the children grew up, she said.

“The stakes are a lot higher with teenagers, and this parent was really looking for a way to build community with other Jewish parents of teens.”

Kelly Cohen is JumpSpark Atlanta’s Executive Director.

JumpSpark, which is supported by a collaborative of community organizations led by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, is part of a national program to increase the participation of Jewish adolescents in community life.

Last week, JumpSpark held a community seminar for parents at The Weber School on the growing problem of vaping among young people.

The seminar, with the support of the HAMSA substance abuse program of Jewish Family & Career Services and the Caron Foundation, was moved to a larger venue because of the intense parent interest in the subject.

JumpSpark Atlanta is part of national programming in 10 American cities funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, which is among the largest supporters of Jewish educational work for children and youth.  It is named for the Jewish philanthropist who escaped the Holocaust in Austria as a child and became a successful California real estate investor. He died in 2003.

As part of a new initiative in the works, JumpSpark in Atlanta plans to expand a program making small philanthropic grants in the next year for innovative projects developed by Jewish teen organizations.

The first round of collaborative grants was awarded recently to a Jewish teen group that will partner with another Jewish teen group to create new programs.

“We want to support and raise up the professionals in our community that are already on the ground,” Cohen emphasized, “We’re here for them and the amazing work they are doing. We want to elevate and enhance that work.”

Cohen was lower school Judaic Studies coordinator of The Davis Academy for six years. Before that, she lived in Jerusalem for four years as a member of the Pardes Day School Educators Program.

She feels especially grateful for the experience of guiding a new generation of young community leaders through the JumpSpark program.

“A lot of the teens that we work with I have known for years, and I’ve watched them grow up,” she said. “I’ve been a part of their growing up. That is very meaningful to me, to really be part of someone’s Jewish journey from third grade to being a junior in high school. It’s an amazing gift to be able to touch lives at multiple ages and multiple points.”

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