JOI has long advocated systematizing name collection and tracking to help communities better reach and engage Jews on the periphery. It is a great pleasure to share the success of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, and especially Karen Gerson, Director of Informal Jewish Education for CAJE/Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City. Ms. Gerson and CAJE have created the “Engaging for Life” system which has succeeded in tracking the Jewish engagement of local youth over the past three years. We remember with pride our first conversation with Karen several years back, when the program was still being piloted, and commend the community on its vision.
The Engaging for Life program owes its success to numerous factors: 1) a community collaboration partnering seven of Kansas City’s nine congregations; 2) systemic name-collection as an intrinsic part of every youth-based program; 3) data collection organized to best facilitate follow-up and program development, and 4) a level of personalized follow-up that is still too uncommon in the organized Jewish community.
By making use of the system developed by Karen Gerson and CAJE, the community now can extrapolate reasons for the drop-off in Jewish engagement for youth of high-school age, and can reconfigure programs to best compete against the changing landscape of this demographic. When sports involvement is correlated with decreased Jewish engagement, the community began to make plans to hold a Purim basketball tournament to better meet the needs and interests of Jewish youth in this age group. A key aspect of any community’s outreach initiatives must be the inclusion of ideas that reach individuals that meet both their secular and spiritual interests.