When Valerie Maier sent out invitations to her bat mitzvah last year they came with a heartfelt letter asking guests to forego presents and instead send money that she could donate to charitable causes.
At the urging of her father Gary, Valerie turned to her local Jewish Federation to explore options for a hands-on giving experience. The Federation helped her establish a donor- advised fund from which she could support programs that resonated with her – like helping a young girl named Zoe who has cerebral palsy.
Volunteers working through the Federation had just renovated Zoe’s home to help her get around more easily. When the construction was complete, Zoe’s wheelchair could fit into the kitchen, allowing her to join her siblings and parents for meals rather than eating alone in her room.
When Hurricane Sandy hit, Zoe’s home was without power for a week. To help ensure Zoe’s health and comfort in the future, Valerie used some of the resources in her fund to purchase a generator for Zoe and her family so that the young girl’s bed and other important equipment won’t be without power again.
In addition to helping Zoe, Valerie has used her fund to contribute to other programs locally and around the world. She has bought blankets and other baby supplies for abused women in Israel, provided scholarships for kids to attend summer camp and helped those impacted by devastating tornados in Oklahoma.
“Valerie has leveraged all the gifts she received,” said her mother Lisa. “All her guests who participated in her bat mitzvah, and made contributions in her honor, in essence participated in this act of tzedakah.”
Giving to those in need is a tradition in Valerie’s family. “My parents are both Holocaust survivors,” said Lisa. “So they passed on a belief that if we are fortunate enough to be able to help someone else, we should.”
In addition to directing her fund, Valerie is considering getting involved in a variety of other programs through Federation. “The Jewish Federation has been great in giving us the right opportunities that appeal to her,” according to Lisa.
Jewish Federations across North America are connecting young Jews like Valerie to the larger Jewish community and helping them make an impact around the world.
When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Valerie said: “I don’t know what I want to do, but I do know that I want to help people and make a difference.”
We thank the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey for sharing this inspiring story with us.