This article was originally published on Jewish Teen Funders Network blog. The original post can be found here.
If you were to track down Alli Lesovoy’s former high school classmates in San Mateo, California, those that didn’t know her well might say they never saw her after school – not on the court, not practicing with the band, and not in a language club. They might even say her absence meant she never participated in extra-curricular activities.
The truth, however, was entirely the opposite. Growing up in a family with a strong sense of the need to give back and a vested interest in experiencing Jewish values outside of the typical educational setting, Alli’s youth was packed with more activities than even the most ambitious high schoolers. “I was completely surrounded,” she says. “At home, at URJ-Camp Newman, at Hebrew school, in NFTY, as a Diller Teen Fellow – it was a no-brainer that my extra-curricular activity was Jewish social action.”
Participating in teen philanthropy, however, as she did with the Jewish Teen Foundations in San Francisco, was something new for her, and different from any other Jewish programming she had done. “We had gotten something in the mail, which I ignored. My mom encouraged me, and in the application process I had the first interview of my life,” Alli remembers. After being accepted and participating in JTF for two years, Alli reflects that the experience totally changed her perception what ‘giving’ meant. “I had always volunteered and donated, but growing up my family was not well-off and so I didn’t think I could get involved in philanthropy,” she says.
Alli continued to seek out Jewish opportunities in college. At University of California-Davis, she joined a Jewish sorority, quickly becoming active in leadership roles and eventually serving as chapter vice president. Having done so much social action work, Alli found herself drawn to studying sociology – “I believe everything is socially-constructed,” she says - and participated in Brandeis Collegiate Institute. After a cross-country move for an opportunity to serve as a fellow with Repair the World in Baltimore, Alli was tapped to continue with the organization as a site development fellow in New York City, facilitating and launching a new fellowship site in the city and building relationships and strategies to engage thousands of locals in giving back to their communities through a frame of Jewish values.
Now, as the sole NYC Engagment Associate with Repair the World, Alli’s job is essentially to develop and lead the programming and partnerships that engage young Jewish New Yorkers to participate in service work across the entire city. “As I began my work at Repair the World, I wanted to be able to do intentional site development. I saw a lot of things I wanted to fix, to improve, and to grow,” Alli says. She works with key stakeholders on the issue of education justice, manages interns at universities across the city and a monthly teen service corps in Brooklyn, creates programs like cocktail hours and Shabbat dinners with a focus on social action, and arranges volunteer days. She also coaches, trains, and mentors the new cohort of fellows serving in Central Brooklyn.
As Alli describes her current responsibilities at Repair the World, it’s clear she is more than capable and comfortable in the philanthropic arena. In describing her work and her myriad experiences, she doesn’t just want to do good – she wants to do good the right way. “When I see the inner workings [at Repair the World] I think back to my teen foundation days,” says Alli. “I pay attention to things like overhead costs and funding sources, I think about strategic giving and how many different ways you can give.”
Alli says that mentoring others in the field is one of her passions, so it should be no surprise that she is also one of a few dozen Jewish organizational and community leaders from across the country taking part in Amplifier Giving’s Incubator, an initiative to support the growth of new giving circles from initial idea to full-fledged grantmaking community. Alli will recruit friends to work out their interest areas, pool funds, and give to the areas they find most important.
Alli herself recognizes that every cause is important to someone, and her teen foundation experience taught her to strive for consensus, to stay flexible, and to both know and continue to question her ‘hard lines.’ “Teen philanthropy gave me so many connections, and I find so many people in this work who have done similar programs,” she says.
Wherever Alli’s hard work takes her, at the end of the day her goal is the same. “I want to inspire others to give,” she says. At only 24 and with years of experience behind her, Alli can rest assured that she’s doing just that.