Unifying Our Human Service Voice

By Reuben D. Rotman

The most important thing I’ve learned this year as I’ve worked to build the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies is that the services of the Jewish human service sector are dearly needed. Our world is increasingly complex and fragile and families struggle with a wide range of normative challenges which can easily overwhelm, including long-distance caregiving, supporting healthy teen development, economic vulnerabilities, and the isolating impact of technology, including social media, to name but a few. And, it is more important now than, perhaps, ever before that human service agencies join forces and reach out to the broader community, including the corporate, academic, government, and philanthropic worlds to support the people and communities who need the concrete, timely and responsive help of our sector.

On the first anniversary of its founding, the Network is gathering more than 400 lay and professional leaders, service providers, corporate executives, philanthropists, academics, direct service volunteers, and agency board members from the United States, Canada and Israel for its first annual conference: “Unifying Our Human Service Voice.”

The conference features five plenary gatherings and 31 breakout sessions, which focus on the Network’s four pillars: advocacy, collaboration, innovation and best practices. We come together to learn and share successes, establish new and reinforce existing collaborations and partnerships, and inspire each other to reinvigorate our programming, funding and business models, and, to some extent, our world view.

We are kicking off the conference with a reality check from David Axelrod, Senior Political Commentator, CNN, and Host, The Axe Files; Director, University of Chicago Institute of Politics; and Chief Campaign Strategist and Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama (2009-2011). During our opening plenary, Chicago reporter Kim Gordon is facilitating a discussion between Axelrod and attendees about today’s political climate and its impact on the human service sector.

In addition, Jeff DeGraff, often called the “Dean of Innovation,” will speak to us about best practices for driving organizational change through innovation. Jeff’s insights on making change happen will be invaluable to both our members’ local work and the development of the Network’s Center for Innovation and Research.

The Network is a driving force for unification. It was launched in May 2017 when the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies (AJFCA) and the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services (IAJVS) came together. Our members in the United States, Canada and Israel provide a wide range of human services to Jewish and non-Jewish communities, including healthcare, career and employment services, as well as programs for youth, families and older adults, Holocaust survivors, immigrants and refugees, persons with disabilities, and caregivers.

During the past year, while building a solid foundation for our “startup” organization, we established a national health insurance plan for our US member agencies that today includes the participation of 17 agencies, covering 749 employees with an average savings of $1,800 per employee per year. That comes to over $1.3 million that we’ve been able to put back into the budgets of participating agencies.

As a united force, we developed and implemented emergency responses for sister agencies impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the California wildfires, truly demonstrating the power of an integrated network. But this is just the start.

Monday is a big day for us as we launch our new website (www.networkjhsa.org) and announce our first board of directors. The board will be headed by the CEO of Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit, Perry Ohren, who has been instrumental in creating the Network and setting its direction. He will lead a board made up of agency leaders as well as professionals from the corporate community, along with leadership from foundations, other nonprofit partner organizations and member agencies from throughout the US, Canada and Israel. This diversity is intentional. Over the course of the next year, we will expand outreach to others to join the Network or partner with us to serve communities in need.

Reuben D. Rotman is the founding CEO the Network for Jewish Human Service Agencies (NJHSA), an international membership association founded in May 2017 when the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies (AJFCA) and the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services (IAJVS) joined forces. A leading innovator in the social services sector, Rotman was previously the executive director of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest New Jersey. NJHSA’s inaugural conference is being held in Chicago, this week, April 29 to May 1, 2018.