This year, Alex, Jed, Allie, Rosie, Adam and Micah Shiff have established a Youth Philanthropy Program for JFS. Collectively they have pledged a total of $6,000 to match any gift, 1:1, made by youth (up to the age of 25). They hope to help raise a total of $12,000 towards JFS programs and services.
The program runs Jan – Dec 2017.
See below for their story and how they were inspired to make this gift!
The Story Behind Shiff Youth Philanthropy
A grandmother’s challenge motivated six B.C. cousins to begin a philanthropic project – and the young people are picking up the torch and urging their peers to do the same.
Dorothy Shiff, who lives in Toronto, told her grandchildren she would provide them with $1,000 each for a charity of their choice if they wrote persuasive explanations of why they chose the cause they did.
Dorothy admits she was no pushover.
“We had a deadline because I thought they could drag their feet,” she says. She also demanded rewrites when she thought her grandkids hadn’t put enough thought into it.
Alex Shiff was the first to respond. A couple of years ago, the 27-year-old, who is an assistant to B.C.’s Environment Minister, had attended the Innovators Lunch, which is JFS’s major annual fundraising event. His uncle, Ari Shiff, who supports the event every year, as a sponsor through Inflection Management, invited him to be a guest at their table. Alex was impacted by a story he heard there.
“I was quite moved by the profile of one particular gentleman who talked about his story, as a successful businessman in Point Grey and ending up in the Downtown Eastside. He talked about the services, the basic resources, the counselling that were provided to him by JFS,” says Alex. The man’s struggle with mental illness and substance misuse struck Alex as important topics to address.
“I think it’s something that’s often not discussed within the Jewish community,” he says. “A lot of folks don’t think that things like that can happen to them.”
Alex decided that JFS was where he wanted his donation to go and wrote his grandmother about his experience at the Innovators Lunch.
Alex’s uncle, Ari Shiff, was impressed with Alex’s letter.
“I thought it was so nice that I sent his email to my kids and said, ‘Why can’t you be more like your cousin Alex’?” Ari says. The email was persuasive. All five of Ari Shiff and Carla van Messel’s kids jumped on the JFS bandwagon.
The multi-generational Shiff humour came through in some of the responses. In her email, Allie, 22, wrote “I’m so lucky to have such a lovely bubby and not one of those evil kinds of bubbys that … make them eat gefilte fish. Or borscht.” She went on to outline aspects of JFS’s work with people living in poverty, newcomers and seniors.
Jed, 20, cited JFS’s efforts to settle new Canadians and help them obtain Canadian certification for trades or professions they had in their places of origin. He signed himself “Your favourite grandson.”
Rosie, 18, called JFS a “one-stop shop for people who need help,” where services are provided in a “respectful, dignified way.”
Adam, 16, itemized the services JFS provides seniors as his reason for allocating his donation.
Micah, 13, was particularly passionate, citing his involvement in the Chesed Club at Vancouver Talmud Torah (VTT), which has been working to support refugees to Canada. JFS, he wrote, helps refugees get back on their feet in a new homeland.
“I would really like to thank you for this opportunity, because all year I have wanted to donate money to this cause but I don’t have money of my own to give,” he wrote.
Together, the Shiff kids decided to leverage their gifts by creating a Youth Philanthropy matching gift program this year. Their collective $6,000 will be pledged to JFS, to match donations 1:1 from other young people, up to the age of 25. They are hoping their peers will donate bar or bat mitzvah money or some cash from part-time jobs to help raise critical funds to support JFS programs and services.
Ari Shiff thinks his mother’s idea was a great one. In the Jewish community, he says, there is a double-edged sword to family giving. Joining together to give as a family is a way to maximize impact, he acknowledges, but he has been involved in multiple major fundraising campaigns in Vancouver where even people in their 50s tell him, “Go talk to my dad.” Getting successive generations engaged in philanthropy as early as possible is ideal, he says.
Ari has been involved in programs at VTT, King David high school and elsewhere to try to get young people to think about philanthropy.
His goal, he says, is “to encourage kids who think their $18 doesn’t mean anything to understand that actually your $18 means a whole lot. And we’ll match it to make it worth more.”
Nephew Alex wants peers to think of things relatively.
“There’s a lot of stories about the struggles of Millennials – difficulties finding employment, the cost of housing, student debt – but when you really look at your life and you come into contact with folks that really have it tough, and are truly struggling, you realize that there is really a lot of yourself you can give,” he says.