This Thursday, April 2, two long-time advocates for the unemployed, new immigrants, aging workers, and adults with disabilities officially get to claim some long-sought leisure time.
Caren Ford and Nancy Fisher, who served two years as interim co-executive directors of Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest, are retiring.
Following the appointment in January of executive director addy Bonet, Ford and Fisher were able to step away from an agency they had served for a combined 55 years. Their official retirement party was held in mid-March.
JVS is a partner agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Ford started out as a volunteer organizing other volunteers. Large numbers of Jewish immigrants were coming in from the Soviet Union, and Ford helped organize area synagogue members who “adopted” them, helping the newcomers furnish homes and re-establish their lives.
“Some of those relationships have lasted until now,” Ford told NJ Jewish News.
In 1989, she joined the staff, and in the 26 years since then, she has served to connect the agency to the wider world in a range of roles involving rehabilitation and development. Ford, who earned an MBA after she joined the JVS staff, has handled the roles of community liaison, business engagement and corporate services, and grant writing.
In 1986, Fisher joined JVS as a part-time ESL teacher, which turned into a full-time position, which, in turn, evolved into a supervisory role. She became head of ESL, working with other teachers. She also oversaw the computer training and basic skills courses that JVS provides to companies.
In recent years, Ford and Fisher shared the number two spot as assistant executive directors, and agreed to take over the agency when their boss, Leonard Schneider, left in May 2013.
“We said we’d only do it if we could do it together, and only until the right person was found for the job,” Ford recalled.
“We thought that would be a few months,” sighed Fisher, an educator with a master’s in ESL.
Eager as they are to slow down a bit, they describe their connection to JVS and its staff almost in familial terms. “We’ve loved being here,” Ford said, and Fisher agreed. Among the achievements was developing a program to train certified home health aides, and establishing a career center for people on the autism spectrum. Both have proved popular with clients and the community.
In retirement, Ford insisted she will focus on household chores, “like cleaning my basement,” and traveling with her husband. Her main activity, she beamed, will be babysitting her five grandchildren. But she might continue to work in a lay capacity with one of her favorite JVS connections, a scholarship loan program that benefits Jewish students in the Greater MetroWest region.
Fisher said with pride that the agency has become the state’s largest single provider of customized training to companies. But, said the former teacher, seniority came at a price. “I missed working directly with the students, and knowing everyone by name,” Fisher said. “As I walked around the building, I would still pop in to see how the students were doing.”
She already knows there will be an ongoing connection with education: She will serve as a volunteer worker with state and county bodies dealing with adult literacy and lifelong learning. “This is my passion — so it’s not really working,” she said, and added, “And I won’t have to set my alarm.”