Chris Herman, Director, Jewish Teen Engagement on November 13, 2019
Last week, not only was I able to escape the cold of Pittsburgh, but I also had the opportunity to conclude my 18-month Generation Now Fellowship with a full-day Disney Institute Leadership Excellence workshop in sunny Orlando, FL. An immersive, world-class experience designed for ambitious professionals who are interested in changing the landscape of Jewish teen education and engagement, the Generation Now Fellowship seeks to create an active community of senior professionals learning together to integrate outcomes-based thinking into their work with Jewish teens.
Disney Institute was created to provide an opportunity to advise and train a variety of organizations on the business insights and best practices of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. The Leadership Excellence workshop which I participated in is one of many offered by Disney Institute and focuses on values-based leadership which cultivates success by making values foundational to the decision-making processes within the organization. While the Leadership Excellence workshop does not pertain directly to the non-profit world or to teen engagement, there are many relevant lessons I learned that I believe can effectively translate to the work of The Second Floor Teen Center at the JCC.
The approach to values-based leadership for Disney begins first with identifying the vision and the values of an organization. The vision of an organization by one definition is tackling a need in the community or world and creating a view of a better future where that need no longer exists. It is also a viewpoint in the organization that everyone can believe in. Take for example the vision statement of the Disney Company; “We create happiness by providing the best in entertainment for people of all ages everywhere.” Disney’s vision is simple while at the same time setting a high expectation that everyone can connect with. It’s a vision that creates a future where everyone is happy based on the entertainment that Disney provides but setting the expectation that it stands out by being the best.
The second aspect of Disney’s approach to values-based leadership is focusing on the actual values of the organization. The values of an organization are important and lasting beliefs held by those within the organization. Disney’s values-infused leadership model challenges leaders to create and explain the why and help people get behind the vision through an understanding of the values.
Last year, all of the teen professionals at the JCC gathered together once a month to explore and build opportunities for engaging the teens in our community more effectively, intentionally and collaboratively. The result of these regular meetings was creating and naming our WHY for engaging teens at the JCC – to help teens be the best version of themselves now and in the future. Simple. Practical. Attainable. This WHY has become the driving force to how teen experiences are evaluated and created at the JCC and is deeply connected to the core values of the JCC: Kavod/Respect, Chesed/Kindness, Tikkun Middot/Character, and Kehillah/Community.
But how did we settle on this WHY and what does it have to do with engaging teens within a Jewish setting? The answer is everything! Our roles as Jewish educators and professionals is NOT to force or even encourage teens to be “better” Jews or “affiliated” Jews, whatever those terms mean. Our role is to create a safe and brave space where teens can engage and enjoy meaningful and intentional Jewish experiences that in some way connects to and impacts who they are as a person. The values of our organization are not something we explicitly teach to our teens but rather create spaces for our teens to actively engage with. Our teen experience may bring teens together over food in order to build kehillah/community where they are meeting new people and learning about their uniqueness or they may bring teens together around volunteering and actively engaging with Tikkun Olam/Repairing the World. Some of our experiences may bring teens together around video games but during the course of playing teens will engage with values such as rachmanus/compassion and kavod/respect. Each of our experiences is intentionally designed to help our teens navigate a confusing and quickly changing world at their pace and address their needs at any given time all in hopes of allowing them to have a better sense of who they are and who they might want to become in the future. We are constantly exploring new opportunities to engage teens in intentional and meaningful experiences that bring this added value to their involvement with the JCC and broader community.
Not only did my participation at Disney Institute challenge the way I think about and design new opportunities to engage today’s Jewish teens, but it also validated our approach in making an impact on the lives of each and every teen that we engage with at the JCC. I emerged from Orlando appreciating more than ever the tremendous opportunity and blessing we have on The Second Floor to help our teens be the best versions of themselves now and in the future.
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