Lynne Robbins sat at the head of a table in a conference room on the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus in Whippany and advised a dozen people facing unemployment. It’s a role she has played hundreds of times as a career and placement counselor at the Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest NJ.
“There is a grieving process when one loses a job,” she told NJ Jewish News after the session with her clients. “But they should look at their next opportunity as a challenge and get their minds set around that. A prospective employer does not want to hear a sob story.”
On Oct. 27 Robbins will leave her own job, retiring from a career that lasted 47 years, 28 of them spent at JVS. An agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, JVS delivers a wide array of services on a nonsectarian basis to thousands of people annually. There is a satellite office on the Aidekman campus, but the main facility is in East Orange.
Robbins said that, as she is healthy and mobile, her retirement shouldn’t indicate a reduction in her activity.
“I will probably go back to being a hospice volunteer and a volunteer at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center,” she said. “I will take an art course. I will play tennis. I will do more personal training to get in better shape for the rest of my life.”
A resident of Woodland Park and native of Little Neck, Queens, Robbins graduated from Buffalo State University, then obtained a master’s degree in art education from New York University. Through a friend, she was hired as a secretary at NYU’s placement office where, she said, “I didn’t need to type very well — because I didn’t — but I needed to be able to talk to students.”
Ten months later, she became a placement counselor, and several years after that, the university’s director of career services.
After 18 years working at the university, she left her job and answered an ad in The Star-Ledger for a part-time job as a career and placement counselor at JVS. Beginning at the East Orange office, Robbins worked on vocational testing and matching people with potential occupations.
“When I started at JVS I just did career counseling,” she said. “Then I learned a lot about all kinds of career assessment tests from Margaret Jacobs, the person who hired me.”
She made it clear that the service she provides at JVS is not the same as an employment agency in that she and her colleagues do not do job referrals. Rather, she said, they “teach people how to get their own jobs. Our strength is to help get them together to move from point A to point B.”
The satisfaction of guiding people on the path to finding meaningful work has sustained her. “I love my work. If a career counselor does not like her work there is something very wrong,” she said.
According to Dr. Meryl Kanner, who is supervisor of career counseling and placement at JVS, “Lynne has been instrumental in helping hundreds of clients realize their career goals by helping them find jobs and get jobs and taking them through the job search, which is a horrible process.
“She has been an inspiration to a lot of people,” said Kanner. “She is astute, she knows how to read people, and she gives them a little push when they need it, and a little hand-holding when they need it.”
But Robbins also has faced low points. “My most difficult years were in 2008 and 2009 when the stock market died,” she said. “We were literally sopping up people’s tears — a lot of finance people. This was very bad. It was damn depressing.”
Robbins said the thing she will miss least about the work she loves is her set schedule.
Still, she added, “I am scared of the flexibility of no schedule because I have never not worked since I was 16 years old. I have no idea what it will feel like, but it’s a challenge.”
Even though she has yet to experience it herself, Robbins still has some advice for those who wish to stop working. “Retirement is a very individual decision if you are given the decision to make,” she said. “People should have some sort of plan — not one engraved in stone but one they might want to do. Have a loose plan — but have an idea of how your days are going to be filled.”
The day after she retires, Robbins will leave on a trip to Thailand, but also plans to visit less exotic spots, including Chicago to see her daughter, Jacquelyn, a therapist, and Jacquelyn’s husband and three children, as well as Manhattan where her son, Daniel, a financial planner, resides. She also has a sister living in Phoenix as well as friends in North Carolina and Florida whom she also plans to spend time with.
Reflecting on her productive work life, Robbins said, “I’ve greatly enjoyed working with the Jewish population, but I have enjoyed working with all populations. The people I will miss the most are the clients,” she said. She added that she is most gratified “just knowing I’ve made some impact on people. I get so excited when people get jobs that they love and when people say, ‘You made a difference.’”