Connected Through Service
by Jennie Gates Beckman, Lisa K. Budlow and Lee I. Sherman
Stephen Donshik’s article on the Jumpstart study, “Connected to Give,” highlights several key issues and raises a number of key questions. In particular, the following are three big ideas we at The Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies (AJFCA) want to echo from the article and how we have shifted our focus to address these exact needs in the community:
We need to be reaching out and engaging young people (especially graduates of intensive Jewish experiences like birthright israel) in our institutions, educating them on our mission and organizational structure and inviting them to participate in actual decision making at a high-level.
Will this happen overnight? No. Obviously, as Donshik pointed out, we need to invest in leadership development and strengthen the role of volunteers of all ages in our Jewish institutions. AJFCA made just this investment when we partnered with Repair the World to launch our Volunteer Initiative, hiring a dedicated full time professional in February 2012 to elevate the role and impact of volunteering within AJFCA’s member agencies, manage the expansion of outreach to young adults, and increase professional development and support to network volunteer managers. We have created a Community of Practice of approximately 75 agencies throughout North America that share ideas and resources on community volunteer engagement. Our agencies report that support from AJFCA and their peers helps to enhance their strategy for engaging young people in their communities in a meaningful way.
Once we had a strong sense of how our agencies were faring in the area of young adult engagement, we decided to pilot a Young Adult Ambassador program which would provide the structure and resources to allow the Volunteer Manager of three select agencies to focus on young adult recruitment and engagement in service. Although the pilot year is not yet complete, we have already seen significant returns for the participating agencies. For example, Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit had been reluctant to create volunteer programming specifically targeting young adults since the market for such opportunities in Detroit was surprisingly saturated. The Ambassador pilot helped them work through their perceived roadblocks, allowing them to identify ways to partner with existing programs in the community as well as giving more focused direction to the talented young adults who they had already successfully engaged on their board.
As a national association, we are also very interested in how we might partner with the leaders of the intensive Jewish experiences like birthright, Avodah and the new Repair Community Fellows model to connect their alumni with meaningful opportunities in our member agencies to further their Jewish community connection following their life-altering experience.
We need to prove to young adults that Jewish organizations are not just here for the Jews.
This one is easy for AJFCA and our 125 member agencies. Jewish family service agencies are strongly rooted in Jewish tradition and values. Judaism provides the underpinning of our missions and the foundational guide to our services, but not a limit to whom those services may benefit. In fact, more than half of our member agencies serve a client base that consists of at least 50% non-Jews. Collectively, Jewish family service agencies provide a strong Jewish response to human need. Yes, in case of disasters such as Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, our agencies are there to meet the needs of the general community. But every day they are open, they are serving the needs of the general community by caring for the elderly and disabled, the unemployed and addicted Jews and non-Jews alike. There are many recent studies which back up the fact that younger Jews raise this up as a core value. We need to make them aware that the Jewish family service agencies can connect them to the service opportunities they are seeking.
We need to be open to innovation in our organizations, no matter how large or historic the agency might be.
One of the aspects of institutions that actually attracts rather than repels young adults is that the organization is doing innovative work on issues that the young person finds meaningful. The concept of inviting young adults into the board rooms of our agencies might seem innovative to some, but our hope is to make that piece of our initiative old news and focus our innovation on how volunteers are helping our agencies produce value by filling a void or improving a process. This is something we spoke to in detail in the most recent issue of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service on big ideas and bold solutions. Here again, Jewish family services are continually innovating, and we need to publicize widely this opportunity for young people to engage with a Jewish organization in a way that works for them.
We whole-heartedly agree with the points made by Stephen Donshik in his recent piece. We invite Jewish organizations to partner with us in spreading the word to our future Jewish leaders of the many meaningful and relevant opportunities they can find to engage in the Jewish community through their local Jewish family service agency.
Jennie Gates Beckman is Manager of Civic Engagement and Repair the World Programming of the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies (AJFCA), Lisa K. Budlow is the Director of Programs of AJFCA and Lee I. Sherman is the President/CEO of AJFCA.