Leading the way

14 Dec 2015

It’s a busy Sunday afternoon at the Michael Sobell Jewish Community Centre in Golders Green. The room is full of lively chatter. It’s one of the regular teas the centre hosts for residents from Jewish Care’s Selig Court along with members of the Holocaust Survivors’ Centre.

nullBut this is no ordinary tea party. It’s also one of the places where young professionals, possibly the future lay leaders of the charity, are volunteering in order to get to know the organisation better.

It’s all part of a new programme inspired by our Chairman Steven Lewis and driven by a young surveyor called Nat Roden.

Although Jewish Care’s Young Patrons programme continues to grow, Steven has long been concerned that there still may not be enough younger people coming through to give the organisation the strength to meet the growing needs of the community.

Not so much the professional experts who deliver the charity’s services, but the lay leaders who are such a crucial part of its backbone.

Over in East London, Jewish Care has long been helping prepare young people for the challenge through the MIKE programme run from Redbridge Jewish Community Centre. This aims to nurture Motivation, Inspiration, Knowledge and Education by engaging young people between the ages of 13 and 17 in volunteering and peer leadership. It’s been a huge success, with hundreds of young participants.

Jewish Care’s CEO Simon Morris describes the MIKE programme as “a breeding ground for future communal leaders” and many of the organisation’s professionals have taken part. Richard Shone participated as a 13-year-old. Now he runs Jewish Care’s six community centres. He explains that: “It gave me a pathway from being a committed person in the community to being a professional person in the community. It built my confidence, gave me new perspectives and new opportunities. I’m delighted my son Jamie’s just started MIKE himself.”

Another young participant is Ian Grant, a previous winner of the Saul Keene Award for Excellence in Leadership, who says: “MIKE helped me realise what I want to do with my life – which is work with young people in the community – and helped develop the skills to realise my ambition.”

As Carolyn Rozenberg, Assistant Director of Fundraising at Jewish Care points out: “We’ve always been good at reaching out to people still at school, especially through initiatives such as the MIKE programme in Redbridge but getting busy young professionals on board is a challenge.”

That’s where Nat Roden and the tea at the Michael Sobell Jewish Community Centre come in. Through the Forum for Jewish Leadership, Nat, a 24-year-old chartered surveyor had spent some time volunteering at Jewish Care’s Stepney Community Centre.

“Volunteering at Stepney was fantastic and left me wanting more. I was sure there were lots of people out there who, like me, really wanted to get involved. All of us can easily give three hours a month to volunteer. But people just think they’re too busy – especially when they’re setting out on a career. We need to make it easy for them to get involved.”

Nat approached Jewish Care with the idea of creating a development programme for young professionals that would offer them a hands-on insight into Jewish Care. With Carolyn Rozenberg’s and senior lay leader Michael Dunitz’s help, Nat set about designing the kind of programme that would attract more people like him. “We originally planned to look for six to eight young professionals who wanted to get more involved in volunteering for Jewish Care in a structured way. We set out to find eight people and ended up with 14, because they were too talented to turn away. We’ve got a really diverse group, with architects, teachers, accountants, civil servants and lawyers and people from all kinds of backgrounds.”

“One Sunday every month we all come along to a Jewish Care resource and take part. The programme falls into three parts. Firstly, we get a lay leader or a professional from Jewish Care to tell us about what they’re doing, how they do it, and why – that’s helping us understand how Jewish Care operates. Then we do an hour’s voluntary work, like running an activity with residents at a Care Home, which brings the whole thing to life and makes a difference to other people’s lives. Finally, we have a group discussion to work out what we’ve learned. The Michael Sobell tea is actually an extra event we volunteered for, just because we enjoy it and as a group we’ve really gelled”.

As Nat says, it’s about getting under the skin of the organisation and learning how it helps the community, rather than just fundraising or taking part in events.

When asked how he finds the time to take part, Nat’s fellow participant Amy Woolf explains: ‘If you want to get something done, ask a busy person”. A 30-year old with a sixmonth old daughter and a budding career at KPMG to look after, Amy relishes the extra challenge of the programme. “You can always do more if you’re committed enough. And this is a way of showing our respect to the incredible staff and volunteers who keep these amazing services going.” That’s an opinion echoed by 22 year old Shoshana Goldstein-Silverblatt, another of the 14 programme members: “When we went to the Fun Day at Princess Alexandra Home in Stanmore in the summer I couldn’t believe how much effort volunteers were putting in to make it so brilliant – and how much they were getting out of it too.”

Of course, the programme is less than a year old, but it already looks like it could help meet Steven Lewis’s great challenge. The last word goes to Nat Roden: “We’re already looking for next year’s members. So if you’re a young professional and want to get involved, we’d love to hear from you. I promise that you will have the time to do it”.

For information about the Lay Leadership Development programme contact crozenberg@jcare.org. For information about the MIKE programme call Redbridge Jewish Community Centre (RJCC) on 020 8551 0017.

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