Kelly Cohen, Director of JumpSpark in Atlanta, shares how they are using the Sustainability Diagnostic Tool to implement a Community Partner Network to expand Jewish engagement opportunities and to invest in Jewish professionals as the future of Jewish education. 

The Or HaChaim, in his commentary on the book of Exodus says that when building the Mishkan the Israelites “encounter both tangible perceptibles, and intangible imperceptibles.” God had given clear instructions as to how this new dwelling place was to be built and mandated the contributions of the whole community. The tangible perceptibles were the physical building materials that would define the Mishkan’s shape and structure, but just as important were intangible imperceptibles. As the Or HaChaim says, “It was the intangible contributions that enabled the tangible parts to be joined together and to form a sustainable whole, a tent that would not collapse.”

JumpSpark is a part of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative and an Innovation Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. We connect and collaborate with the community to create meaningful and defining moments for Jewish teens, while enhancing the infrastructure of Jewish education and engagement in Atlanta. JumpSpark partners and invest to reimagine existing programs, supports new and innovative ideas, and thinks creatively to meet the needs of teens, their parents, and Jewish educators and professionals that work with them. Simply put, we are trying to build a new ecosystem of teen offerings and support in Atlanta.

Over the past year, JumpSpark engaged over 1300 members of our community with innovative programming including our Strong Women Fellowship, Navigating Parenthood series and JumpSpark Professional. In addition, through Spark Grants, $275,000 was strategically invested by JumpSpark into the Atlanta Jewish teen space. These are our tangibles that build something new. While we have the beginning of a structure, as JumpSpark enters its second school year, we need to directly engage with the intangibles necessary for sustainability.

In the coming school year, JumpSpark will launch a Community Partner Network. This model, adapted from the San Diego Jewish Teen Initiative, is the next iteration in the development of JumpSpark. Through this network, thirty local Jewish teen serving organizations will join forces with JumpSpark to connect the community, expand Jewish engagement opportunities in Atlanta, and invest in Jewish professionals as the future of Jewish education. Over the course of the year, Community Partners will be asked to track teen engagement, participate in Cross Community Evaluation surveys, commit to participation in JumpSpark Professional workshops, and launch a new Teen Israel Taskforce. With an $1800 incentive grant for partner organizations, JumpSpark is able lead the community in working together for an engaged and sustainable Jewish teen ecosystem.

In visioning and implementing this new network, JumpSpark was guided by the Sustainability Diagnostic Tool (SDT) developed by Rosov Consulting for the Teen Funder Collaborative, with support from the Jim Joseph Foundation. This tool is a practical, helpful resource for anyone engaged in community building who wants to assess a program or initiative’s readiness for sustainability.  As Aaron Saxe, Jim Joseph Foundation Senior Program Officer, sharedThe SDT offers clear indicators and a qualitative sliding scale for communities to gauge progress themselves. Taken together, communities will gain a deep understanding about their readiness to ‘make it on their own.’”

As we embark on the work of building this new Community Partner Network, I am supported by the clear indicators for sustainability laid out by the SDT. We must be focused on how we can show “diverse community organizations are significantly invested in teen education and engagement effort.”  We must put “incentives and structures in place to support communication and coordination among diverse youth-serving organizations and programs” and we must be creating the structures to ensure that, “youth-serving organizations and programs are collaborating effectively to increase economies of scale and eliminate redundancies.” JumpSpark’s Community Partner Network is about taking the first step together as a community to achieve these goals.  The building challenge comes when I ask myself, “How are we engaging with the deeper level of our work—not just with what can be seen, but the intangible contributions from our community that will ultimately hold this thing together?”

What has become clear is that we will never be able to “make this our own” unless we dedicate time to build community and to foster collaboration. In a Jewish organizational world where we sometimes are stuck in silos, a concerted effort must be placed on community-wide relationship development and trust. Diverse constituents must be brought on board through listening and compassion. All this work will take energy, empathy, talent, commitment and time. These are what we can’t track in our metrics or quantify in our reports, but this is what is going to hold it together. If the intangible work has been done to build a community that is unified and committed, we can build something that will last.

JumpSpark is proud to be a part of the vanguard experimenting with the Sustainability Diagnostic Tool. When the Israelites were building the Mishkan in the desert, they were creating a place for God to dwell. Today, as we embark on using this new tool to create and sustain our Jewish future, may we never lose sight of the intangibles holding our work together and the holiness we can create.

Kelly Cohen is Director of JumpSpark in Atlanta.