A diverse group of 25 teens - athletes, musicians, artists, actors, poets, Eagle Scouts, Republicans and Democrats - came together in December at Gratz College for the launching of the Satell Teen Fellowship for Leadership and Social Action.
The Satell Fellows, from both private and public high schools, and of each of the five counties of Greater Philadelphia, competed with 47 applicants in a rigorous application process for the 25 spots.
This Teen Fellowship is a collaborative effort of the Satell Family Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Service Learning Institute of the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College. Focusing on building leaders through social action and political activism, this select program encourages intellectual inquiry and spiritual reflection; and gives fellows the opportunity to meet and learn from influential people in politics, religion, business and civic affairs.
Edward Satell, CEO of Progressive Business Publications, funded 90 percent of the program through a five-year grant from the Satell Family Foundation.
"This Fellowship Program resonates with experiences I deem important - learning and then doing. Both are essential qualities for leadership," he said. "It is for the brightest and the best, but is not necessarily for the kids with the highest grades. These young leaders have already exhibited excellence in political and social activism, and demonstrate strength of character and charisma."
The Service Learning Institute coordinates the Satell Teen Fellowship Program, under the direction of Beth Margolis Rupp. Over the last 15 years, the Institute, an integral part of JCHS, has had more than 3,000 students serve the Philadelphia area through communal projects.
In the spring of 2005, the Satell Family Foundation was presented with a proposal for the program, drafted by the staffs at Federation and the Institute.
"Mr. Satell liked the use of social action as a vehicle to build leadership skills among our youth," explained Raechel Hammer, a Federation senior planning associate who manages and oversees the implementation of the program. "He is extremely committed to and invested in his philanthropy, and truly cares about the fellows and the future of the Jewish community."
Preparing the next generation of leadership is amongst Federation's highest priorities, according to Rob Meyer, its director of leadership development. "We need you," he said. "The skills you'll learn as Satell Teen Fellows will help you deal with key challenges, such as issues of hunger, and increase your passion for the worldwide Jewish community and your ability to make a difference."
Satell told the teens he was motivated by past support he received: "Others did this for me at the synagogue and Jewish Community Center I attended. I was given building blocks that gave me a life-long sense of purpose, heritage and self-esteem, along with friendships I still have."
During the six-month program, the fellows will have monthly meetings with Margolis Rupp and their youth mentor, Brian Cohen, a University of Pennsylvania student and youth-organization advisor. They will participate in service projects such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Jan. 15, Federation's Super Sunday on Feb. 12 and the National Day of Youth Service in the spring.
In March, they'll make a presentation at the National Youth Leadership Council in Philadelphia, and meet teens from around the country to share new ways to be leaders and to serve the community.
The Teen Fellowship Program culminates with a service trip to Israel in June.
"This is not the usual tour, but an opportunity to serve side by side with Israelis, discuss critical issues with them, as well as explore their deep love and commitment to their country," said Margolis Rupp.
At the inaugural meeting, Satell advised: "Be an American; be involved in a democratic society. Create, support and invest in your vision and invest in the Jewish community.
"Take time to know yourself," he continued. "Ask yourself, 'Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?' Teenage years are the time for these questions."
Rupp Margolis told the teens, "This fellowship is about your growth, learning and aspirations to make a better world - about turning your thoughts and ideals into action. There are situations in the world for you to solve."
She pointed out that the fellows were chosen from diverse Jewish backgrounds so they could learn from one another.
Teddy Mazurek, 16, said he's glad to be a Satell Fellow. He attends Friends Central in Wynnewood and goes to Camp Ramah in summer. "They have service programs, but usually for a week at a time. The Satell program is for six months."
Mazurek described how the group's first activity, a three-day trip to Washington, D.C., last month to meet lobbyists and advocates, was so worthwhile: "We learned so much, like the details of how to get a bill passed and how to activate our own ideals."
Vera Shabaty, 16, who attends Council Rock High School in Newtown, came to the Philadelphia area from Ukraine when she was 5. She said, "I know the program will challenge my abilities to be a leader and help me express them."
Fifteen-year-old Sophie Kaufman, who attends Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, is excited about everything - from the first meeting to the seminar in Washington, and especially about the trip to Israel. "What's great is that our group of teens is diverse, but bound together by being Jewish," she said. Kaufman hopes to perform service in education, tutoring kids from troubled backgrounds.
Considering the program's future, Satell first reflected on the past: "I was lucky to be born in the United States during the Holocaust. Growing up, I had the freedom to live, to work and to attend the college of my choice based solely on merit. It was different for my father, who had rocks thrown at him, and had to change his name because he couldn't get a job with the name he had.
"We come from a tradition that produced Maimonides, Freud and Einstein - and you are part of this tradition," he said. "You have to decide if you'll carry on what you've inherited."
For more information on the program, call Beth Margolis Rupp at 215-635-7305, Ext. 5, or Raechel Hammer at 215-832-0815.