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Federation grants seek innovators in programming
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Federation grants seek innovators in programming

In an effort to get “the biggest bang for the buck” and fund a broad range of quality programs that address unmet communal needs and demonstrate measurable impact, the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County is offering $75,000 in grants for innovative programming.

The money is being made available to local Jewish organizations, agencies, synagogues, and day schools as part of the second phase of a three-year “hybrid” allocations model combining core and programmatic funding.

The process leaves the traditional allocations process intact, while tapping non-campaign dollars to create an incubator for new ideas in social services and Jewish identity-building among a broader array of institutions.

On Oct. 25, 52 representatives of local Jewish agencies and organizations came to a required “bidder’s conference” at the federation’s South River offices to learn about the process and thinking behind the grants.

Committee chair Jeffrey Schwartz said the goal of the conference and subsequent steps were to make the grant process “as well thought out as possible and to help us allocate resources in the best way possible.”

“We want to identify and meet unmet needs,” he said.

Approved agencies were required to submit a brief letter of intent by Nov. 26; projects making it past the first phase will be required to submit a more detailed application by Jan. 21. Successful existing programs are eligible for funding.

Approved grantees will have the money available to them in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2013.

One of the key goals of the grant makers is eliminating duplication of services through partnerships, said committee member Al Friedes, with the aim of building a stronger program using fewer resources.

“We may find we get two or three applications for similar programs from several organizations and put those organizations in touch with each other,” he explained.

As outlined in the federation’s new mission statement, the process will concentrate on three areas: “attracting people to a more vibrant community,” for which 40 percent will be earmarked, “care for the vulnerable, and inspiring the next generation to embrace Jewish life,” which will each receive 30 percent of the grant money.

The money will come from non-campaign sources, such as funds allocated to address unmet needs, said federation planning and allocations director Laura Safran. The federation will continue its normal allocations process to partner agencies, like the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County and Jewish Family & Vocational Service.

Grant applicants must be Jewish, non-profit, and local. Safran said the committee was able to identify 100 groups throughout greater Middlesex County meeting such criteria.

“The program could encourage intensive Jewish experiences for youth from all backgrounds, like a trip that has some soft educational component to it, or leadership development preparing the next generation,” said Safran. “As conveners we want to nurture opportunities that spark collective action, such as volunteering. We reached out over the summer to organizations we never worked with before to ask for ideas and capitalize on partnership opportunities.”

Committee member Justin Footerman said the grant process was driven by a desire to engage a larger cross-section of the community.

“We know we’re reaching only a small section of those in greater Middlesex County,” he said. “We’re looking for young adults. We’re looking for families with young children. We’re looking to include interfaith families, singles, and recent retirees.”

As part of the grant process, Footerman said, every organization — from Hadassah chapters to Jewish youth groups to synagogues — will receive personalized guidance, whether they are looking to set up a program benefitting those with special needs or the frail elderly, or helping those who are unemployed or underemployed. Along with that guidance, the federation is looking to develop a data bank about what is needed and what is working.

“We hope this will evolve into something very powerful,” said Safran. “We want people in the community to talk to each other to make something happen that’s very powerful. We want that conversation.”

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