Cody Gelvar, 27, grew up in Pikesville and learned the importance of diversity through his time spent at Wellwood International School. While Gelvar briefly moved away from Baltimore to obtain a bachelor’s in history from West Virginia University, he did not stay away from his hometown for long.
Gelvar is the program coordinator for two 4Front programs, Students Taking Action for Change and Diller Teen Fellows.
How would you describe your relationship with Judaism?
Judaism has been extremely impactful in my life. I think it has provided me with a sense of direction and what is right and wrong in the world.
What is STAC?
STAC is 4Front’s political advocacy program, and it teaches teens who don’t have the ability to vote and might think that, because they can’t vote, they can’t make change in their community. It teaches them that they actually can. We teach them a variety of ways to do this, whether it is through letter- writing campaigns or how to contact their local and state representatives. Then eventually the STAC teens get the opportunity to pick bills and provide oral and written testimony in front of Maryland state legislators. They get the opportunity to meet with people who might not necessarily agree with what they believe in and have really cool conversations.
What makes you qualified to hold this position?
I really think what qualifies me is my passion. I actually was a Diller Teen Fellow 10 years ago. It left me with such an impactful and memorable experience that it has led me to want to provide that experience for other teens. I think that especially in the Jewish nonprofit or Jewish teen professional world, it is really important that you have that passion. Without it, your work is for nothing.
From your perspective, has the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to educate teens?
I think so. Not necessarily because of what we’re teaching or what we’re talking about, but more so just the medium. I have found that over the past year it has been really difficult to get teens engaged through Zoom. Being within a closer proximity to people allows you to connect more and build a relationship. Especially in programs like STAC and Diller Teen Fellows where we’re having difficult conversations, it is really difficult to do that virtually. No one wants to talk about their deepest and darkest feelings with strangers.
Did you have to change the programs at all for COVID-19?
They definitely had to be altered. Besides making them virtually compatible, we were able to actually experiment a little more. Especially at 4Front, we changed the way we ran our programs. For STAC, it used to be a yearlong program where we met one Sunday a month. This year, we decided to change it to two different pop-up series, one in the fall pertaining to the 2021 election and one in the winter that coincided with the start of the Maryland legislative session. I believe it was good experimentation on our part.
Do you think it is important to work with Jewish teenagers specifically?
For me, I think it is important to work with Jewish teens. I went to a high school with about a dozen Jews. Working with Jewish teens is really important to me because I served as the ambassador for Judaism growing up in that environment, and I think it is really important to give Jewish teens basic knowledge of answering difficult questions from non-Jewish people about Judaism. Over the last several years with the rise of antisemitism, people do not understand what Jews believe in. … I want to make sure that Jewish teenagers are ready for the real world.
Have the teenagers you work with impacted your life?
Absolutely. Teens keep me young. I think it is really important for me to be around young people because they are high energy and passionate about what they believe in. I think there is something that we can all learn from young people. They are the next future leaders of the world. I am really happy to see that it is a bright generation.