Owen Burns is a 2022 graduate from the Friends School of Baltimore. He lives in Owings Mills, Maryland and will be attending Washington and Lee University in the fall. During his active years in 4 Front he was involved in the Teen Service Council, Social Innovation Fellowship, Middle School Leadership Council, and served as the Teen Observer on the JCC Executive Board. Learn a little more about Owen.
How did you first get involved with 4Front?
I was sucked into the 4Front pipeline after completing two years in the Middle School Leadership Council (MLSC). The second year I was offered to be the Executive Director which gave me my first opportunity to lead my peers, even before I started high school. I loved being in the J environment and with the teen engagement staff so much that I wanted to continue working with 4Front into high school.
What has been your most rewarding experience with 4Front?
Touring Israel in 2019 with the Social Innovation Fellowship was the most rewarding experience through 4Front, but not for what you may think. It was the first time I had been out of the country and even traveled without my family…and it was the same case for many other kids on the trip. Because my family was seven hours behind in another time zone and there were only two adults to manage the two dozen teens, I had to be very independent. Several people on the trip were being disrespectful and immature and I had to take a step back and reflect: is this how I look, too? I began to change my behavior to become more conscious of the way others perceive my actions and words. So, as we toured more of Israel I implemented my new behavior. I remember when we volunteered at a children’s hospital, everyone in our group was just huddled up, not interacting with the children. I broke off on my own and taught a little girl who did not know English a simple, competitive card game. My friends noticed me making friends with this little girl and even got a little jealous, trying to butt in our card game. Instead of getting annoyed and shooing off my friends I let them take over because I realized I had broken the ice for them to interact with the children. Soon, everyone was having fun playing with the non-English-speaking, severely ill children. Succinctly, this experience with 4Front taught me best how I can be a leader: acting independently to do what is right to set an example for the people around me. With 4Front, I was able to use the independence that I was granted to learn a lot about myself and to make a positive impact on others.
How do you think your experience with 4Front will impact you in the future?
4Front has exposed me to so many concepts, conversations, and communities that would be difficult to find on my own. Thanks to this exposure to so many new ideas in the world, I am able to enter adulthood more comfortably and confidently. Also, through 4Front, I have made strong connections to other teens in the program and more importantly to the staff –all of whom I now consider friends.
Other than 4Front programs, how do you spend your free time or what else are you involved in?
Getting exercise and eating healthy are really important to me. So I usually spend one or two hours in the fitness center at the J everyday. I graduated in June, but in high school I played soccer and golf. I was also the President of the Senate (our school’s student government) and a club head for the Jewish Student Union, Model UN, and the Adaptive Design Club –a club I started after being inspired by “Tikkun Olam Makers,” a company I met in the Social Innovation Fellowship.
If you could share one word to describe your 4Front experience what would it be?
Personal- Despite being a group program, for me, I got out of 4Front as much as I put into it. I was able to make meaningful experiences through 4Front when I challenged myself to try or learn something new. Although there was a set program and itinerary, I was able to make my 4Front experience very personal to who I am and wish to be and I think that is why I stuck with it throughout high school.
Why is getting involved in Jewish teen programming important to you?
My faith is the main thing that connects me to my entire family and community. I remember I was volunteering at the Myerberg Center around the time I was going to Israel with SIF and all of the seniors were going nuts. “You have to try the bagels from this place” … “This store has the best chocolates” … “My son lives in Tel Aviv right now” …were all things these people were elated to tell me just because I was a teen going to Israel. The Jewish connection I have made with people of any age and background breaks the ice to have an even more meaningful conversation. Also, Jewish teen programming has made learning about my faith and Jewish history more interesting and impactful. 4Front has helped me see the world under a Jewish lens and how I could approach the world with a Mensch Mindset.
If you could choose one song that symbolizes and defines your time with 4Front, what would it be and why?
This is a funny question. Maybe The Middle by Jimmy Eat World. It gives off a lot of teen energy. The song is very optimistic and is a reminder that times can be difficult and confusing but we are all human and can get through anything together.
Why should someone get involved with 4Front?
4Front will immerse you in the world of business, philanthropy, service, entrepreneurship, politics, and more while giving you the opportunity to create lasting relationships with people your age, the staff, and people you meet through the program. 4Front will arm you with skills that will give you a leg up on your peers because you’re getting exposed to so many critical career and life skills at a young age. I recommend it to anyone who has a lot of motivation but isn’t quite sure where to devote their energy. 4Front will help you find ‘your thing’ and the person you hope to become.