Peer Leaders are Changing the Face of Teen Engagement in San Diego

Throughout the Jewish community, countless organizations ask the questions: How do we get our teens to stay involved post B’nai Mitzvah? Why don’t more teens attend our programs? How do we find teens that we don’t know?
At the same time, our teens are asking: How does the Jewish community help me get where I want to go? How do I know what is going on? Are any of my friends doing this stuff? Will it be worth my time?
Federation’s Jewish Teen Initiative has developed a strategy to help both sides answer these questions. The Peer Leaders Fellowship is an adaptation of a successful peer-to-peer engagement model developed by Hillel International. By recruiting and hiring teen influencers who have vast networks, we are able to empower them to connect and engage their friends with the Jewish community in an authentic way. They are trained to listen to what their friends “want” and then connect them to specific opportunities that feed their passion. It is that simple! By deploying this strategy in our San Diego community, we are able to drive participation to 23 of our partner organizations, enabling them to have more robust offerings.
After an extremely successful pilot year that saw 13 Peer Leaders connect with 375 of their friends (monthly), we have launched the second year in spectacular fashion. Last month nine of our new Fellows traveled to Boston for the first ever multi-community convening of Peer Leaders. While San Diego and Boston are the pioneers of this model in the teen space, several other communities sent professional staff to observe this training. Teens were taken through workshops on “social asset mapping,” effective communication techniques, and led in powerful conversation about barriers to teen participation in Jewish programming. The goal was to get them to see the greater picture of their role as Peer Leaders and community connectors.
“It took going to something like this for me to realize that I am a part of something so much bigger than myself or my city,” one of the San Diego teens shared. “This is about Jewish community and identity forming that effects the next generation of Jewish young adults.”
This year, 27 San Diego Peer Leaders will be responsible for communicating monthly with a portfolio of their friends, simply to listen and connect. If we reach our objectives for this engagement strategy, by the end of June 2019, we will have:
  1. Listened to 675 teens (monthly) throughout San Diego County and connected them to opportunities based on their interests and passions.
  2. Positioned 27 local teens as experts in how to get involved in the Jewish community.
  3. Connected 150 teens, who were previously unengaged in the Jewish community, to new Jewish experiences.
  4. Identified new opportunities for engagement that can be adopted by existing youth groups or developed by teens themselves.
The Peer Leaders Fellowships is changing the face of Jewish teen engagement by involving teens in community building. It is a key strategy to connect more Jewish teens to more Jewish things in San Diego.
The Jewish Teen Initiative is a partnership between the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Lawrence Family JCC on behalf of the greater San Diego Jewish community. The core objective is to increase Jewish teen engagement across the county through programs operated by synagogues, agencies, schools, and other institutions. This will be accomplished by building on San Diego County’s long tradition of civic engagement and community service. The Initiative will foster the growth of strong, existing programs that offer opportunities for teen volunteerism and Jewish service learning, as well as develop new, large-scale community-wide service programs designed to connect Jewish teens across the county and its demographics. To learn about all our community has to offer Jewish teens, visit
If you are interested in learning more about the Peer Leaders Fellowship and opportunities to advance this important work, please contact Rebecka Handler, Jewish Teen Initiative Director, at


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