If they had $10,000 to contribute to philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, how would they divide up the money?

That question, recently posed to seventh- and eighth-grade students at The Agnon School in Beachwood, brought different responses. One team of two students said they would give $6,000 to a hospital for cancer research and $4,000 to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Three students comprising another team would give a third to each one’s favorite cause: a presidential campaign, a home for children with mental disabilities, and cancer research.

“Right now, cancer research is winning,” instructor Barbara Gross told them. “We’ll talk about how you as a group could raise money for them.”

This year, Gross, a professional fundraiser with 35 years of nonprofit experience in the Jewish community, is teaching Agnon’s middle school students to think like philanthropists. In a new course entitled “Do Unto Others,” she has instructed students on the characteristics of a nonprofit organization and guided them in researching agencies in Cleveland and Israel.

Philanthropy involves “time, talent and treasure,” said Gross, who headed fundraising and leadership development at Menorah Park for nearly 20 years, and is a consultant on fundraising and youth philanthropy. “Hopefully in your lives, you’ll be philanthropic in all three ways. My goal is that you will become philanthropic throughout your lives.”

As part of the course, seventh-graders, working in groups, selected and visited such agencies as MedWish International, a not-for-profit organization in Cleveland that repurposes medical supplies and equipment discarded by the health care industry for humanitarian aid in developing countries. Agnon parent Dr. Lee Ponsky founded MedWish in 1993 after observing the lack of medical supplies while serving on a medical compound in Nigeria.

Taking copious notes and asking numerous questions, Agnon seventh-graders Kyle Flatow and Sarah Borow were impressed as they toured MedWish International.

“MedWish was unlike any other place I ever visited,” Kyle said. “Their warehouse was amazing. The place was packed with medical supplies that hospitals can’t use anymore, but that people all over the world can use to stay healthy. They seem to make difficult things happen with ease. It’s mind-boggling.”

Eighth-graders chose Israeli organizations such as Magen David Adom, an ambulance volunteer service that was one of the first to arrive in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake; Yemin Orde Youth Village, which provides a home to some 500 children; Women of the Wall, which strives to achieve equal rights for women at the Western Wall in Jerusalem; and ORT, which provides education and vocational training to Jewish people worldwide.

Both grades are gathering in-depth information about their selected organizations.

Agnon’s philanthropy course will culminate with each group making a presentation starting at 6:45 Wednesday evening, Jan. 23, during Agnon’s “Celebration of Learning” program. Attended by parents and the community, all kindergarten to eighth-grade students participate in this special event, which showcases the educational curriculum and activities.

“This worthwhile endeavor teaches our children about the non-profit world, in addition to the tremendous services these agencies provide to our community,” Leah Spector, assistant head of school and director of Hebrew and Judaics, said about the philanthropy course. “The entire exercise dovetails with our framework of educating Agnon students about specific Jewish and general social values.”


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