Connecting Families and Children in the Time of COVID: Grants to build belonging through small groups

Background and Purpose:

It takes a village to raise a family, and the COVID pandemic has deprived parents and children of their “villages” just when they need them most. Access to communal family life, from playgrounds and playgroups to childcare and grandparents, from school and sports to holiday celebrations and communal gatherings, has been wiped away or drastically altered. Loneliness and anxiety about the future are taking a toll on both parents and kids as they navigate work, school, financial stress, and health fears in isolation.

Jewish life can be an antidote and anchor for these times, feeding the soul, mind, and hunger for community and connection. It can provide an infrastructure for us to take care of each other, feel embraced and supported, and express our deepest values through Jewish wisdom and tradition.

The pandemic is forcing us to find new models for Jewish life – online, in small groups or pods and outdoors – that may well outlast COVID and become our new normal for Jewish gathering. Thankfully, Jewish organizations have risen to the challenge with creativity and compassion, experimenting with online offerings and carefully regulated in-person activities, some of which are attracting record numbers of people eager to feel connected.

Now we must ask:  Who is participating? Who is missing? How can families and children connect more deeply? How do we go beyond content and programs to ensure that people forge lasting bonds with others during this time? How might Jewish institutions help families create new villages or strengthen existing ones, by facilitating small group structures with a Jewish lens?

We know from the Community Portrait and related research that most Jewish families in the Bay Area are not connected to Jewish life or community. We also know that Bay Area Jewish families:

  • Are highly mobile, lacking local family roots and organizational ties
  • Represent diverse backgrounds and identities (racial, ethnic, multi-faith)
  • Struggle with the high cost of living which impacts Jewish choices
  • Often feel alienated from Jewish mainstream institutions

With COVID, families are experiencing loss, economic and emotional distress, and isolation. The Connecting Families RFP aims to counteract these challenges through intentional relationship weaving, sharing Jewish wisdom, and facilitating small-group communities.

The Bay Area is home to many Jewish programs for families that provide high-quality Jewish content and activities. What is often missing is a systematic mindset and skillset around building long-term “villages” or “pods” of families. This is even more important during the Covid-19 era when families hunger to feel safe, connected, healthy, and supported. The Jewish communal ecosystem has an opportunity to provide that support to families and children by building small groups around Jewish life.

Core to this approach is the intentional design of group structures that ensure belonging for all. The Federation’s Culture of Belonging practice promotes methodologies and mindsets that strengthen community and individual belonging in the Jewish world. We recently launched similar grant cohorts for day schools and young adult programs and hosted our first-ever 473K1  Belonging Experience, a day of learning attended by 180 communal leaders.

1Named after the total number of individuals in Jewish households in the Bay Area according to the Federation’s 2018 Portrait of Bay Area Jewish Life and Communities.

Proposal Guidelines:

Through the Connecting Families RFP, the Federation seeks to support experimentation and scaling of small group models for families and children from birth to 12 who would benefit from a supportive Jewish network during and beyond the pandemic. 

A limited number of 18-month grants ranging from $30,000-$50,000 will support the development and implementation of small group infrastructures built around Jewish life for families and children. 

Approaches can combine virtual, in-person, and outdoor modes but should incorporate intentional design to build group connection and belonging over time that will be sustainable (i.e., fixed, lasting small groups rather than one-time or short-term activities). While these grants are intended to shore up families and children during the current crisis, the small group structures should be built to last, providing a source of ongoing support and resilience for what’s to come. 

  • Priority will be given to initiatives that:
    • Focus on families and children birth-12 who lack supportive Jewish networks (whether they are affiliated with a Jewish institution or not)
    • Build on the diversity of our Jewish population and design for equity and inclusion
    • Feature easy access and low-barrier participation
  • Small group initiatives focused on children must have a parent component
  • Funding may support the expansion of existing small group structures, or the creation of new ones
  • Grant size will be based on the scope of the proposed program and the organizational budget dedicated to families/children
  • Grant period: January 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022 (18 months)
  • Eligible expenses include staffing, program supplies or materials, contractors, technology upgrades for virtual programming, marketing/communications, or other expenses to support the grant purpose

In order to maximize and measure the success of these grants, the Federation’s Family Engagement team will convene grantees in a “community of practice” cohort that will meet six times during the grant period, plus a day of learning, to explore Culture of Belonging methodologies, build networks and shared learning across grantees, and develop common metrics of success. Grantees will also receive coaching and evaluation support as they experiment with small group models.

Eligibility and Criteria:

Applicants must:

  • Focus on building communities of Jewish families in San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, the Peninsula, and/or the East Bay. May include synagogues, Jewish educational institutions, JCCs, independent engagement programs, or alternative Jewish educational programs
  • Be a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit or organization with fiscal sponsorship in the Federation’s Service Area
  • Actively serve families and children from Jewish households
  • Have buy-in from professional and volunteer leadership to explore new models for engaging families and children in small groups
  • Demonstrate the capacity and inclination to re-orient programming towards belonging, and the ability to measure the progress of this work
  • Articulate alignment of this grant with the organization’s mission and goals
  • Demonstrate strong organizational leadership and financial stability
  • Show a commitment to testing, learning, and iterating this approach in partnership with the Federation and other grantees
  • Deploy competent staff and organizational resources to implement the work
  • Align with the Federation’s mission and funding policy on Israel-related programming.

Measures of Success:

The Federation will work in partnership with grantees toward the following outcomes:

Participant outcomes:

  • Increased feelings of support from the Jewish community during COVID-19
  • Increased feelings of connection and belonging in a Jewish community
  • Increased meaning derived from shared Jewish experiences
  • Increased friendships with other Jewish families and/or children
  • Increased ownership and responsibility for the group

Program Outcomes:

  • The majority of groups started are flourishing at the end of the grant period with structures in place to continue
  • Professionals/volunteer leaders feel increased skill designing programs for belonging
  • Increased sharing and collaboration among grantees

In their Community of Practice, grantees will agree on shared measurements and determine specific metrics for the above, with coaching and facilitation from the Federation’s in-house evaluation program officer. We have developed survey instruments and measurement protocols that grantees can use to track increased belonging and connection as well as behaviors that result from feeling part of a Jewish group.


Apply Here


Action Timeline

Informational Webinar 

Register here: Connecting Families RFP Webinar

Monday, October 26, 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm PDT

Proposal Submission Monday, November 16, 2020, at 5:00 pm PDT
Grantees Informed Friday, December 18, 2020
Grant Term January 1, 2021 - June 30, 2022
The Community of Practice Launch January 2021
Final Report

August 2022


Applicants are encouraged to contact Janet Harris, Director of ECE and Family Engagement, for guidance or to answer questions before applying.

For more information, visit the FAQ page.


Janet Harris
Director of ECE and Family Engagement