Housed and managed by the JCC of Greater Baltimore, 4Front offers opportunities for Jewish teenagers to engage with their community. Thanks to recent funding grants the organization has received, it will be able to broaden the scope of its efforts.
The Jim Joseph Foundation has awarded the organization with a $610,000 matching renewal grant, giving them funding for the next three years. In turn, The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore has matched their contribution, raising $610,000 locally, including a $300,000 by the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds in support of the match.
The grant was awarded as part of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, which is made up of local and national funders from 10 different communities across the United States devoted to sponsoring Jewish teen education. Baltimore is one of the 10 participating communities.
“We want to help teens engage meaningfully in Judaism, explore their Jewish identity and ensure that they are developing as humans and current and future leaders,” said Diana Solomon, who works as the senior director of 4Front. “We also really believe that the best way to support teens is to support the entire ecosystem around them. So we also work with parents of teens and with other youth professionals in the community, to help support them and make sure we’re really providing a stable foundation for Jewish teens to grow and thrive.”
4Front is dedicated to offering a safe space for Jewish teens to explore their religious identity, connect with Jewish culture and engage in local activism, regardless of their background. It primarily centers around five Signature Programs: the Social Innovation Fellowship, Diller Teen Fellows, Peer Leadership Fellows, Students Taking Action for Change (STAC), Gesher Teen Board Members.
They also offer programs and resources for adults who want to help out, whether they be professionals, community leaders or just the parent of a teenager. The organization’s website boasts of partnerships with 60 other synagogues and Jewish groups, with recent partners including the Baltimore Jewish Council and BBYO.
4Front also states on its website that it has helped more than 4,000 teens connect with Jewish organizations with Solomon saying that around 100 participate each year in their Signature Programs.
“A big part of our role in the community is just to help connect teens to other ways to engage,” she said. “So we have this kind of more indirect reach, where we are just promoting communitywide teen engagement, linking families to other opportunities.”
The organization received its initial grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation in 2015, but the idea for for funding localized Jewish teen engagement initiatives came about following the release of the Foundation’s report, “Effective Strategies for Educating and Engaging Jewish Teens” in 2013. This led to the formation of the Funder Collaborative, which Baltimore applied to be a part of.
Their initial five-year grant was extended to six years with the three-year grant awarded recently being the last one from the Jim Joseph Foundation. Half of the grant money comes from the foundation itself; the other half comes from local funders. The Associated serves that role for the Baltimore initiative, 4Front.
With funding for the next three years secured, 4Front plans to focus on expanding their educational offerings and operating more sustainably. Solomon specifically pointed out Gesher Teen Board Members Program, their newest signature program that focuses on supporting the participation and inclusion of teens on the governance boards of Jewish organizations in the community, as being a priority.
Solomon further said they want to better support adults who contribute towards the organization. They want to connect parents of teens through their Parenting Unpacked platform and professionals who work with teenagers through the E3 Teen Professionals Network.
And finally, they want to encourage communication between different parts of the Jewish community.
“We really want all of the organizations in Jewish Baltimore who work with and care about teens to be better connected,” said Solomon. “We want to be the convener and the connector to bring them together. To find new ways to collaborate. To partner and really enhance the overall landscape of teen engagement, and to really create that cultural and communal shift of prioritizing teens.”
As for what the future holds for 4Front now that its funding has been renewed, organizers plan to start recruiting for their Special Innovation Fellowship program in October and November, with the entrepreneurship-focused program starting in November. They also plan to revamp their current website.
Said Solomon: “We’re really hoping that the community can see that as a resource to have one place to go to find all the opportunities for Jewish teens.”