Strategic restructuring

Repair the World shutters 2 offices and its fellowship as it looks for wider engagement through staffers embedded in local groups, shorter programs

Organization closes two of its physical locations, looks to expand its shorter Service Corps program, which has the potential to reach more participants

On June 14, Repair the World shuttered two physical locations in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The decision was not financial, Eli Greenstein Jacober, senior director of growth strategy for Repair the World, told eJewishPhilanthropy. It was about being “strategically advantageous” when “investing in Jewish service.”

The Baltimore and Pittsburgh closures are among many changes within the organization, outlined in its new strategic plan. Repair is ending its popular fellowship program and growing its Service Corps. As some locations close, others are growing. In communities that no longer have physical locations, the nonprofit will place employees in local Jewish organizations.

Founded in 2009, Repair the World provides services and education related to food insecurity, environmental justice, racial inequality and strengthening the education and housing systems.

“Repair is first and foremost a Jewish engagement organization,” Cindy Greenberg, the group’s CEO, told eJP. “Service can be a powerful Jewish learning experience.”

Through its new Powered by Repair program, launching Aug. 1, the organization will place a co-funded full-time employee in one or more Jewish organizations in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. 

“Embedding ourselves in an organization enables us to bring service to where Jews are already gathering,” Shana Bloom, chief program officer for Repair the World, told eJP. “We would be able to bring Repair’s expertise and pedagogy and Jewish service to the organization with whom we’re partnering, to impact its constituents, as opposed to having our own infrastructure, staff, and programming alongside or parallel to that organization.”

Powered by Repair is just one aspect of the push to deepen partnerships in the Jewish community, according to the organization. Repair the World currently has nine national partners including Moishe House, Hillel and BBYO. “Our national partnership work is an incredible way for us to scale because it’s not just us running service programs, but the whole Jewish community will be offering meaningful service as part of Jewish community building,” Greenberg said.

To address antisemitism, Repair the World aims to cultivate Jewish joy through service. Greenberg also believes that service work within non-Jewish communities offers the opportunity to learn about one another. “Service is a really powerful way to bring people together,” she said.

In 2019, Repair the World set a goal to reach 1 million acts of service and learning. It has  reached 49% of its goal, with over 100,000 participants over the past year. The group aims to “inspire a lifelong commitment to service” in participants, said Greenberg, with alumni becoming Repair ambassadors and “activators of their network.”

The nonprofit’s two-year full-time fellowship has been an especially fruitful program, with over 280 alumni participating over the 10 years since it launched, many still deeply involved in service.  

“We’re celebrating all the accomplishments of the fellowships and the impact that they’ve made over the years,” Greenberg said. “It’s bittersweet to be sunsetting the fellowship, and we’re optimistic about the Service Corps and the impact that that’s going to continue to have.”

In 2022, Ilana Pond, Chicago senior program associate for Repair the World, first learned about the Service Corps at a DuPaul University Hillel event.

“I was in college, and I hadn’t really found a space where I can put together both my love for Jewish life and also community.”

Service Corps is a 10-week, 100-hour program connecting young adults ages 18 to 29 with a service partner organization, where they volunteer. Cohorts meet frequently to discuss local pressing issues through a Jewish lens. By focusing on Service Corps instead of the Fellowship program, Greenberg said they can reach 20 times the number of participants.

Through the corps, Pond worked with youth who experienced trauma. Her stint ended, she graduated college, but her passion remained. When a job materialized at Repair the World the following February, she applied.

“I wanted something that was going to actually align with my values going forward,” she said.

This year the Chicago Service Corps involved 36 members, up from averaging 30. The partnerships have had a huge effect on bringing people in, Pond said.

“A lot of people don’t realize that some of the things that we’re talking about in service very much relate to Judaism,” said Pond. “We talked about houselessness in Chicago, and there are a lot of Jewish texts on eviction periods… Grounding ourselves and our values and traditions and history can really bring a community together when times are uncertain.”

Service Corps allows a diverse group of participants to connect to Judaism, many who might not otherwise, Pond said.

A 2021 Brandeis University study shows the Chicago Jewish population includes 319,600 Jewish adults and children. Repair locations in Chicago, along with Detroit and Colorado, are growing, with Pond’s program hiring an additional full-time staff member. “I can’t reach them all by myself,” she said.