Last winter, UJA-Federation of New York announced a PovertySLAM competition aimed at inspiring teens to fight poverty and turn concepts into action. Teens in the New York area responded with creative ideas that have the potential for broad impact.

From left, Lizzy Stein and Ilana Grabiner hold up prototypes of sponsor sheets for TBI PovertySLAM. Sponsor sheets are now available online.

The winning team, composed of five teens at Temple Beth Israel’s youth group in Port Washington, initiated an ingenious project that literally transforms each participant’s step into a stride tackling the issue of poverty. They called their project TBI Poverty Slam.

With the motto “Make Every Step Count,” the teens proposed an everyday walk-a-thon in which congregants sponsor individual walkers for at least 10 cents a mile each day. To set their goals they determined that the average person walks three miles a day and at that rate sponsors would raise $9 a month. Walkers are tracked by a pedometer app, and a website template keeps track of each account.

Their project was chosen for first place this past February and launched this spring when the congregation invited the whole community to join the walkers for their first mile, strolling from the synagogue to the town dock on Long Island Sound.

“We wanted to raise money in a way everyone could get involved, wouldn’t be a hassle, and would be something someone could do every day,” explained Lizzy Stein, a member of the Temple Beth Israel youth group.

By drawing on a number of sponsors in their congregation, the group is now on track to raise $20,000 a year, which they will use to support Masbia, a restaurant-style kosher soup kitchen in Brooklyn and Queens.

But their project doesn’t stop there.

Temple Beth Israel is using the award money from the competition to fund the teens’ traveling expenses to 50 synagogues in the New York area. There they will make presentations of their model to inspire congregations to adopt the project for their own.

“When someone is struggling, it’s the job of the community to help out,” said Jordan Greenblatt, a member of the youth group, who added that Jewish values taught him to believe all Jews are responsible for each other.

TBI Poverty Slam’s goal is to have 50 congregations raise $20,000 each for a total of $1 million for Jews in need.

“Walk-a-thons were limited to two or three hours on a Sunday,” said Rabbi Michael Mishkin, spiritual leader at Temple Beth Israel. “This is a constant walk-a-thon that makes mundane activities meaningful and holy. Walkers do a mitzvah every time they take a step. And donors give to tzedakah every moment of the day as they sponsor a walker.”

Other Innovative Projects

In total, nine teen groups entered the competition. The runners up are:

•    The Jewish Community Center of the Greater Five Towns Student Clubs, which will have students in Nassau County schools learn about and address poverty issues, including student-run fundraisers

•    SAR Academy Healthy Bowl and Basket project, which provides homemade soups and salads for elderly clients at the Bronx Jewish Community Council

•    The Ramaz School RootED project, which provides educational enrichment for Bukharian teens

It’s all part of teen leadership dedicated to finding innovative responses to pressing problems facing the New York Jewish community today.