Local Federation partner BBYO Connecticut Valley Region is the West Hartford-based chapter of the leading pluralistic teen movement that aspires to involve more Jewish teens in meaningful Jewish experiences. Our colleagues at BBYO recently shared the secret of their success over the past 14 months: the teens themselves! BBYO’s admirable and resilient teen leaders have helped maintain a steady course, pivot when necessary, and serve as pillars of strength throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over these past 14 months, BBYO — like most organizations — has faced many challenges. As the pandemic hit, years of systems, programs, and playbooks seemingly became obsolete overnight.
BBYO is known for our traditions: Generations of teens have attended weekend conventions, inductions, and their first chapter meeting – all formative moments in their Jewish journeys. COVID-19 threw all this into question: How could we create formative moments like these in uncharted territory?
The answer to that question came from the teens themselves.
BBYO has a well-established model of experiential leadership development – and it provided a strong foundation for our pandemic pivot. But even the best training is useless without committed leaders. Our teen leaders rose to the challenge in spades.
“There was so much uncertainty,” said Mollie Hall, the newly elected president of Achva BBG in West Hartford. “It was tough to stay connected, but thanks to BBYO I was able to maintain connections with my friends while simultaneously helping new members transition into our chapter.”
We are so proud of our teen leaders’ accomplishments over the past year! Nearly 150 new teens joined BBYO, our members raised over $30,000 for various organizations, and nearly 100 b’nai mitzvah teens received special gift packages to celebrate their rite of passage despite COVID-19. Our teen leaders not only hosted meaningful, themed Shabbat and holiday services in new formats; they also created a multitude of new and fun virtual programs including Zoom racing, online cooking parties, craft projects, and online “coffee house” talent shows.
As vaccines rolled out and restrictions began to lift, we were finally able to return to in-person programming. Thanks to BBYO’s partnership with The Emanuel Synagogue, 150 of our teens gathered for an in-person convention weekend for the first time in 14 months. They celebrated Shabbat together and listened closely as Holocaust survivor Rabbi Philip Lazowski shared his story. They packed Dignity GrowsTM Totes, reconnected with friends, and shared an emotional Havdalah service. And at the end of the weekend, BBYO seniors returned to The Emanuel for a senior prom!
BBYO Connecticut Valley Region is grateful for the ongoing support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. Your contributions to Federation’s Annual Campaign have helped make it possible for our Jewish teens to thrive, no matter the challenges.
Photo caption: BBYO teens finally gather in person after 14 months of online programming. Image courtesy of BBYO.