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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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Bnei Akiva students learn about philanthropy

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From left are Ulpana students Adina Tanen, Kayla Shields and Devorah Green, who won $5,000 for Camp Oochigeas, which serves children with cancer.

TORONTO — Adina Tanen, a student at Ulpanat Orot, says that she and her friends Kayla Shields and Devorah Green were “really inspired” by their participation in the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI), a program for high school students founded by the Toskan Casale Foundation.

As part of their Grade 10 careers course this year, the girls researched and won $5,000 for Camp Oochigeas, which serves children with cancer. Their presentation on “Camp Ooch” was the winning entry for Ulpana, based on a vote by student peers.

The girls’ male counterparts at Yeshivat Or Chaim won $5,000 for Circle of Care’s Meals on Wheels program. The two branches make up Toronto’s Bnei Akiva Schools.

Noam Cotton, who worked on the winning project with his friends Aaron Zeifman and Adin Pellow, said participating in YPI made him more aware of services that people use.

A May 24 event at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre that brought together YPI participants from across the province to hear motivational speakers was one of the most moving experiences of his life, he added. As a student at the only Jewish school to be involved in the program, he said it was “incredible to be part of that.”

The school has been involved in YPI since 2007.

The program, which began in 2002, is a project of a family foundation launched in 2001 by the founders of MAC cosmetics to support community-based grassroots organizations. It has given more than $5 million to Canadian social service charities since its inception, and has engaged more than 100,000 students internationally.

Ulpana’s assistant principal, Shari Weinberg, who teaches the careers course, introduced the YPI to the school.

“Our kids know about it and are so enthusiastic, and put a great deal of work into it,” she said. She added that the hands-on program involves site visits.

Every year, about half her students research Jewish organizations, and about half focus on non-Jewish charities, Weinberg said. “I think it’s been a wonderful program for the class [and] also for the entire school.”

In addition to the Grade 10 students’ involvement, she noted, “one of the things that happened [is that] they continue to have a relationship with their charity of choice.”

A mother-daughter night at the school earlier this year raised more than $2,000 for Bikur Cholim, the Jewish Volunteer Service of Toronto, a charity that students researched as part of YPI two years ago.

Hannah Samuels, one of the Grade 12 students who prepared a presentation on Bikur Cholim, told The CJN that even though her presentation didn’t win the $5,000, YPI “definitely had a big influence” on her. Last year, she started a program through the organization, for students at her school to call isolated seniors every Friday. The program is still ongoing.

“I’ve always been interested in helping the community,” said Samuels, whose father, Frank, is principal of the school. “YPI allowed me to see with my own eyes how much people can help even with limited resources. It really inspired me to do whatever I can to help the community.”

Michael Teversham, who teaches the careers course at Or Chaim, said YPI “opens students’ eyes to a world they haven’t been exposed to.”

Tanen agrees. Previously, she had only been involved with Jewish charities, and hadn’t heard about Camp Oochigeas. “We knew we wanted to do something with kids,” she said. “Kids are so fun, and we feel connected with that. We were so moved and inspired… That $5,000 could change a kid’s life, and give them hope.”

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