Amanda Kosoff got involved in charity work at a young age thanks to a program at her synagogue, Congregation Har Shalom. Since then, she has founded two nonprofit organizations. Now 18, the Potomac resident will soon be attending the University of Pennsylvania.
How did you get involved with nonprofit charity work?
I remember when I was 5, I got my first tzedakah pouch. Our rabbi gave them to us and he made a sort of a competition to try and collect the most coins. That was sort of my first exposure to fundraising and the concept of tikkun olam, which really resonated with me and had a very big impact. It’s the idea of taking your resources and trying to improve the world around you. I got really passionate, and started volunteering for a lot of different
And then during the pandemic, I was volunteering at an organization called So What Else and I realized that there were a lot of employees that were being laid off, and there were a lot of program cuts. And that was because there were a lot of financial burdens caused by the pandemic. So that experience became a larger effort for me, and I wanted to fundraise for other nonprofits.
You started your nonprofit Pop for a Cause, which sells popcorn to support charitable causes, in 2020, when you were 15. Was it difficult to found it at that age?
Something hard was being young and not always being taken seriously, because I was so passionate about it. I was so excited. I had so many different ideas. But sometimes when you’re not an adult or you don’t have a professional title, adults will be kind of wary of working with you, funding you or investing in you. So I had to prove myself in that regard.
And then there are the financial aspects. When I applied for the 501 (c)(3) with the IRS, I had to get my parents to sign off on some things, but I had to do the majority of it myself. So that was also a learning curve for me.
Pop for a Cause sells popcorn for fundraising for a variety of causes. What kind of progress has it made over the past three years?
We’ve been able to donate over $24,000 to various nonprofits, and also get nearly 100 students in the Maryland area involved in our popping events and community events. I noticed that the students when we’re fundraising were sort of removed from the actual problems and families that we are supporting, so I get them involved in these community efforts where we actually are on site volunteering and helping out in any way that we can.
We’ve made oral care kits, we’ve been on the ground at So What Else, in the food pantry, working on youth development and trying to develop curricula.
You also founded iDream of Dance.
When I was volunteering with So What Else, they asked me if I had any talents, and I dance. They had a lot of kids there, and especially during COVID it was kind of slow when everyone was behind a screen. They weren’t always up and moving. So I decided to teach them dance through Zoom. And at first the kids were a little wary. They were a little nervous, a little embarrassed. But by the end they were all freestyling, having the most fun and asking when I would be back again. And it was really great.
What do you find most rewarding about doing charity work?
The stories and the qualitative aspects of it, because especially with fundraising, I get caught up in the numbers. But I really like the stories that I hear and the people that I’ve been able to impact. I’ve been able to teach, for example, adults with chronic illnesses through iDream of Dance and they’ve said that it’s changed their life. They’re dancing in the kitchen. I have some students who have disabilities who are also dancing and I’ve heard stories from their parents that they’re more focused in school and like they’re more excited.
In addition to that tzedakah pouch, tell me something about your Jewish life.
I got very involved in BBYO over the past few years. I was able to become a chair of my local chapter, and I really love the girls in that organization, too.