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JFVS seeks to engage singles and families
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JFVS seeks to engage singles and families

A committee of Jewish Family and Vocational Service of Middlesex County is maximizing its efforts, now running two divisions to reach as many community members as possible.

The aim of Young Professionals and Young Families — the two groups of the Young Leadership Committee of JFVS’s board of trustees — is to connect rising leaders to the agency’s work and to each other.

The groups offer individuals ages 20-40 “social, educational, and volunteer opportunities that support the agency, the community, and each other,” said JFVS executive director Sara Levine.

The goal is to develop volunteers and leaders for the social service organization while creating opportunities to increase Jewish connectedness through involvement in Jewish events and activities.

“In our Young Families Division, participants can connect with other young families and find ways to do tikun olam,” said Levine, adding that she hopes the people who join will “act as community liaisons and take a leadership role in the future.”

The Young Families Division drew 40 families to an apple-picking event at an East Brunswick farm on Sept. 9. At the gathering, children made Rosh Hashana cards to be given to senior adults who participate in Kosher Meals-on-Wheels and other agency programs. In planning its activities, the divisions seek to expose participants to agency services and encourage participants to seek services or recommend agency services to other community members.

The Young Professionals Division focuses on leadership activities and social networking opportunities. Much of the impetus for the groups came from Rachelle Lapin-Stern of Highland Park, who became active in JFVS after moving to the area in 2008. She had been “very involved” with a similar organization in New York.

“When I got here, I was the youngest member of the board by more than 30 years so I wanted to reach out to younger members of the Jewish community,” recalled Lapin-Stern.

She hosted a parenting event at her home in the summer of 2009 that drew an unexpectedly large crowd of 70 people.

“Many people said that didn’t even know that JFVS existed,” said Lapin-Stern. “They didn’t know that JFVS offered counseling and a kosher food pantry. We always say if you don’t know about the agency’s services that’s a good thing, because it means that you don’t need them.”

Lapin-Stern has become an active spokesperson for JFVS, striving to increase community members’ understanding of the agency’s goals and services and helping them access services as necessary.

Lapin-Stern has helped run one event annually, such as having youngsters create Hanukka cards.

The committee took on a second direction last year when Marissa Bullock of Edison, who had moved back to the area, pointed out to Lapin-Stern that there is a need for young Jewish singles to maintain and increase their involvement with the Jewish community.

“We brainstormed, and Marissa and I founded a second division for young professionals,” said Lapin Stern. That division’s first program was held last winter at a Highland Park coffee house, drawing 100 people. A Passover food distribution program and a “kick off the summer” party in East Brunswick followed. “After college you don’t have a core group of friends anymore,” said Bullock. “It’s much harder to make connections to the community when you don’t have Hillel to fall back on.”

“Rachelle and I decided we needed a way to make people in their 20s feel rooted to the community through volunteerism.”

Bullock said the new division could bring positive change to the community beyond helping those in need. “Demographics are changing,” she said. “If we want young adults to stay or come to Middlesex County beyond school, we have to give them a reason to do so. And the best reason is because they have friends and ties here.”

A new job in July has forced Bullock to turn over the divisional reins to Jason Paddock and Risa Barisch, a recently engaged young couple; Randi Ostrove recently joined Lapin-Stern as cochair of the Young Families Division.

Upcoming events include a Dec. 9 Hanukka card-making event for young families, a joint Hanukka party, and a Young Professionals poker room at the annual JFVS Casino Night on Dec. 16.

For more information about the Young Families and Young Professionals divisions, contact JFVS at 732-777-1940 or youngleadership@jfvs.org.

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