Nora Freyman and Brian Gersh were not only co-chairs for the first JFS Ambassadors program, they helped envision and create the program, in partnership with Taly Friedman, Director of Volunteer Engagement.
In May of 2015, JFS was selected to participate in the young adult cohort of the Repair the World Volunteer Initiative at the AJFCA (Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies) annual conference. As part of the initiative, two young professionals, Nora and Brian, attended the conference with JFS staff. Professionals and young adult lay leaders from two other AJFCA agencies met to discuss how they engage young adults, to brainstorm ideas and then to deliberate best practices going forward. Brian, Nora and Taly heard what other agencies were doing and cultivated their own ideas to engage young adults in Kansas City. They decided on a leadership training program that would introduce a small group of young adults to JFS in a meaningful and impactful way. JFS Ambassadors was born!
Nora grew up in BBYO and then was involved with leadership at Hillel while attending the University of Kansas in Lawrence. A Saint Louis native who now works locally with Teach for America, she says, “Kansas City has such a strong and large Jewish young adult population who are eager to get involved in the community through leadership opportunities. By creating JFS Ambassadors, we have the ability to arm this generation with the skills and resources they need to become advocates and leaders for both JFS and the entire community.”
Brian, a JFS Help@Home volunteer adds, “We need to find ways to merge young leaders into the pipeline of our robust community by bolstering their own strength, by informing them about programs that are available, by engaging them with meaningful work, and then by letting them see their impact.” Brian grew up in Kansas City attending Beth Shalom. He left for about ten years and explored life outside of Kansas including time spent in Israel. Now that he’s back, he no longer belongs to a synagogue, but feels inspired to help in ways that have an impact he can see. “I want to do something that holds more meaning than just being affiliated.” Nora also adds, “Millennials are probably not going to be the volunteers that are content with stuffing envelopes.”
The pilot JFS Ambassadors series just wrapped up in May. The twelve participants had a chance to hear from dedicated philanthropists in the community who care about JFS; they learned about the food pantry and heard from a pantry client; they gained skills through the Career, Skills & Connections program; they volunteered at one of JFS’ partner agencies and heard from young leaders who are already making a difference in our community. Nora says, “I was excited to see how motivated the participants were. We all came from such different backgrounds, but shared the same goals.” Brian added, “I was surprised how many services JFS offers and how many partners they have involved. I feel grateful to be able to give back and do my part to cure the world.”
Taly concurs, “We are thrilled that this series has created a space for ongoing conversations about community involvement, values and where young adults want to donate their time and money. This is just the start, but we are really excited about the groundwork that these young adults are laying in our community and we could not have piloted this program without Nora and Brian’s vision and leadership.