A Resource Website for Jewish Toddlers (and their Parents)

Denver – Apr. 10, 2011—Soon after Greer Aviv moved to the Denver metro area from New York last fall, she went looking for a Jewish pre-school for her three-year-old son. First stop: Google.

Anyone typing Jewish and Denver into the popular search engine finds the usual, endless list of links to area synagogues, schools, social service agencies, and other such organizations.

It’s a bit of a messy, scattershot, confusing approach. So a relatively new website, www.mazeltot.org, is being noticed by Aviv and others like her – parents of young children and those expecting a baby or planning families – craving a one-stop shop for Jewish experiences, programming and activities for the toddler set – ages 5 and under, that is.

Aviv discovered MazelTot on a Google search and subsequently enrolled her son in The Garden Preschool in Lone Tree, a Denver suburb. Not only did she discover a quality institution through the site, she claimed a tuition discount simply for passing through the MazelTot portal.

“The need for MazelTot is crucial, whether for a newcomer like me or not,” she said. “This is a very effective way to connect those with young children, and help us find Jewish programming, resources and community in one place, and save some money in the process.”

The website launched in late-2009 with a grant from Rose Community Foundation, which supports projects that build and enhance Jewish life in the greater Denver area.

The notion is simple: Identify a targeted population, plug into the great connectivity potential of websites and social media, provide valuable, customized resources and information, throw in some incentives, and create channels of communication and engagement.

It’s done all the time, of course. But foundation officials saw a void here and filled it, as data shows that parents with young children or expecting a baby are often looking for greater Jewish affiliation – through schools, special holiday events, customized programming, Jewish-themed play groups and the like.

“When a couple expects a child, or has youngsters, this is when they are more open to participation and involvement,” said Lisa Farber Miller, the foundation’s senior program officer for Jewish life. “To give options and provide multiple entry points for Jewish activities and traditions, and get on their radar screens, is a major step toward Jewish engagement lasting into the future.”

Foundation officials point to a number of demographic trends – including a burgeoning Jewish population fueled by 20- and 30-somethings and young parents – that made MazelTot a natural resource and Jewish community building block in the Denver and Boulder areas.

The region has about 5,300 Jewish families with children under age 5. Parents in about 20 percent of these families haven’t decided whether to raise their children Jewish, according to the 2007 Metro Denver/Boulder Jewish Community Study of the foundation and the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado.

So beyond being a resource for Jewish families in search of connection, it is also a vehicle to capture those families just sitting on the fence.

“If we can be there and offer Jewish tot- and family-friendly Jewish activities and programming and options, then maybe these families will go there,” said Farber Miller. “We want to offer families new options and experiences.”

There are now 32 Jewish institutions listed on the MazelTot site, collectively offering hundreds of programs and events for tots and young families. Pre-Pesach, the MazelTot homepage links to Passover-related events and activities appealing to toddlers and their families.

Foundation-supported discounts on events, classes, preschools, camps, retreats and other programs are available to families registering on the site. More than 700 program discounts, worth a total of over $110,000, have been used.

“The cost of participating in Jewish life often takes second place to the cost of parenting and the cost of living through the recession,” said Sarah Indyk, manager of Jewish Life Initiatives at the Foundation. “So if this is an obstacle, we want to help to lower it.”

Despite being the new kid on the block, MazelTot is posting some impressive numbers in the nearly 18 months it’s been online.

More than a thousand families from throughout the Denver and Boulder areas have registered on the site, and more than three-quarters of them are transplants to the area, underscoring MazelTot’s value in bringing newcomers into the fold. The site gets an average 1,700 visitors per month.

The site is hooked also to social media channels such as Facebook and meetup.com, and eblast updates are sent to registered users – all to encourage community building and connections among those raising tots.

“Being in these spaces not only raises awareness, but gives parents ways to connect with each other, and not just us,” Indyk said, noting that play groups have been organized by zip code and other free-form meet-ups have been created.

Later this year, a full study of the effectiveness of the site will be complete.

Meanwhile, parents are saying that the website, and all its related links and resources, is becoming key to navigating the Jewish community and its offerings for tots and families.

“MazelTot is bringing together parents with a clear common interest – their young children,” said Aviv. “It’s impossible to visit the site only once.”