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Fain Winner: Sinai Schools Initiative

Sinai Schools Initiative

Mar. 10, 2011

A multi-faceted, synagogue-school partnership that provides daily academic support, special enrichment programs and a weekend’s supply of food for the neediest students.


Community Contact Information:

Chicago Sinai Congregation

Chicago, IL




  • Supplement and enhance the educational experience for economically and educationally disadvantaged students in the Chicago community
  • Assure that the support provided is specific, actionable and sustainable as well as endorsed and supported by the school’s faculty
  • Provide a tangible, comprehensive initiative to enable synagogue members to become actively involved in various ways



A multi-faceted, synagogue-school partnership that provides underprivileged pre-K through eighth grade students with daily academic support, special enrichment programs and a weekend’s supply of food for the neediest students.



The Sinai Schools Initiative began in 2008. The cornerstone of the program is a partnership between the synagogue and local school that serves students in pre-K through eighth grade. To identify the needs of the schools and students and find the best local partner for the synagogue, synagogue members "interviewed" the principals of three neighborhood schools. Following these conversations, a detailed partnership plan was presented to the synagogue’s volunteers, board and Executive Committee for approval.Once approved, synagogue members began working with the school’s principal, vice principal and literacy expert to develop the initiative.


Project Implementation:

Sinai School Initiatives includes more than 100 volunteers serving as tutors, classroom aides, mentors, field trip chaperones and career advisers. The synagogue raises money to fund field trips; provides a Thanksgiving turkey to every family; purchases graphing calculators, textbooks, notebooks and school uniforms for those in need; hosts a graduation dinner for the eighth grade students as well as a scholars ceremony and teacher breakfasts; and has repaired the school’s band instruments.

In addition, the synagogue also made non-monetary contributions such as the donation of 30 computers to establish a middle school computer lab, which facilitated the creation of a computer literacy curriculum. The partnership also provided eye exams to eligible students and helped them acquire free eyeglasses using their Medicaid cards.

After two years of success, Chicago Sinai Congregation introduced another component to the partnership: a weekly food aid program, “Blessings in a Backpack.” Students identified as homeless or transient are eligible to receive a backpack containing a weekend’s worth of food every Friday. Chicago Sinai Congregation funds the project and volunteers pack the backpacks every week.



The Sinai Schools Initiative is a multi-faceted, long-lasting local partnership. It has helped students improve their scores on standardized tests and their general achievement in the classroom. Chicago Sinai Congregation’s assistance has lessened the burden to classroom teachers by providing one-on-one help to the neediest students.