On the Road to Excellence: Reflections from Outgoing President Wendy Born

The last two years have just zoomed by while I have traveled the road as Jewish Family Service president. I started my term during the summer of 2015 building on the accomplishments of Patty Glascom and the JFS presidents who came before her. I will be handing the steering wheel over to President Elect Rabbi Allen Juda at the end of June. With his experience, knowledge and enthusiasm for enhancing the Lehigh Valley Jewish community, Rabbi Juda will be an excellent driver. 

While preparing to start my presidency, I asked Debbie Zoller what she would most like to accomplish as JFS executive director during the next couple of years.  Debbie replied that her objective was to create an agency of excellence. In our partnership as chief volunteer leader and chief agency professional, we adopted this aspiration as our primary focus and developed a roadmap to travel toward this destination. When making critical decisions, we often stopped and asked ourselves what options would move us toward excellence. I couldn’t have traveled the road to excellence with a better co-pilot than Debbie!

Travelers know that planning a route is the most effective and efficient way to reach a destination. Our roadmap is the JFS Strategic Plan, which the board approved in 2016. The strategic plan outlines three goals to excellence. 

The first goal is to provide services to meet the needs of the community. We have been assessing needs and then planning programs and services to meet those needs. Some highlights on our road trip have been conducting religious programs and Shabbat services in senior residences. The smiles on the faces of the participants as they belt out a familiar Shabbat prayer or savor a piece of challah are heartwarming. We are providing more transportation opportunities for those who need rides through a reinvigorated volunteer driver program in collaboration with a community-wide organization called ShareCare. An active, efficient and friendly food pantry is overflowing with enthusiastic volunteers.  These volunteers feel a great sense of purpose as food pantry recipients take home a bag full of items they chose for themselves from the well-stocked room. Both those volunteering and those receiving needed food reap benefits from this endeavor.

The second goal is raising awareness about JFS and engaging the community. We communicated who we are and what we do by speaking at Shabbat services at synagogues throughout the Lehigh Valley. Big highlights for me on my presidential journey have been our successful annual community fundraisers. I am particularly proud of 8ish Over 80 in which we honored awesome seniors selected by their synagogues or agencies. This event involved the entire Lehigh Valley Jewish community and attracted a capacity crowd. The seniors inspired us with their accomplishments and beamed with pride as they were recognized for their volunteerism. Added benefits of 8ish Over 80 were attracting new donors and volunteers as well as communicating our valuable role as an agency in the community to a large audience. We can’t wait to honor a new cohort of octogenarians in November 2017.    

Building our infrastructure and facility is the third goal. We have developed our professional staff so that JFS has the right people on the agency bus with the skills we need to help our clients. I take great pride in receiving positive feedback from those who have been helped or who tell me about people they know who have received excellent service from JFS. We have redesigned and redecorated our office space so that it reflects our agency of excellence and meets the needs of the staff and clients. We have attracted new board members, committee members and volunteers with a valuable spectrum of skills and interests.  

When approached by a foundation interested in developing young leaders and our present board, we jumped at the chance to get involved. Two JFS board members participated in a two-year leadership development program culminating in a mission to Israel. As part of this grant, our board participated in two consultant-led retreats to learn about innovation and how to measure the outcomes of innovative programs. Watch for some creative initiatives generated as a result of this board development grant. 

We have more distance to travel and more needs to meet on the road to excellence. As the Lehigh Valley community population continues to age, more services are required to provide older adults with the quality of life that we would like to have for our parents, grandparents and for ourselves. Counseling and case management services continue to be needed, emergency financial assistance is an issue and we want to attract and train more volunteers.

As we have journeyed, I have been motivated to continue this important work by the people with whom I have worked and those whose lives we have touched. The skilled professionals on the JFS staff under the leadership of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable executive director, Debbie Zoller, along with a talented new president, board and committee structure will continue on this important journey to help people in our community to live healthier and more stable lives. It has been an honor for me to have the opportunity to travel on the road as JFS president!