Addy Bonet, the new executive director of the Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest NJ, is the first non-Jew and first female to hold the position at the 75-year-old agency.
She succeeds Nancy Fisher and Caren Ford, who served jointly as the organization’s interim executive directors since May of 2013.
Bonet joins a 200-employee organization facing increasing demands for its services, and considering a new partnership to serve the broader region.
JVS leaders are in discussion with the Jewish Educational and Vocational Service of Philadelphia about a possible affiliation.
“There is talk about an affiliation with JEVS, but we have not signed an agreement,” Bonet said. “There is a lot of discussion about how we can partner to better serve our clients and be much more efficient, but there is no final agreement and no date we are looking at to finalize the agreement.”
Bonet, who assumed her post on Jan. 5, has 27 years of experience in the world of nonprofit management. Having worked at YMCAs in Red Bank, Hoboken, and Plainfield, she served for the past five years as the NJ director for the March of Dimes.
“Many of the Ys I operated were very social service focused,” she told NJ Jewish News in her East Orange office. “We worked with homeless people and provided them with shelters. We helped folks with resume writing, interviewing skills, and other things to help them get back on their feet.”
JVS offers such services and more, including customized corporate services training and personalized and classroom training for clients ranging from aging workers and single parents to the physically and mentally challenged and newly arrived immigrants.
The nonsectarian agency is funded in part by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, which supports the JVS career center, and in part by state and federal government grants. JVS is also financed in great measure by corporate and individual gifts.
“I think maybe the programs are different but not the model,” said Bonet, comparing JVS to her former agencies. “We are serving people in very specific areas, and my background lends itself to agencies that provide a service to clients — usually underserved clients who need more help than others.”
A Roman Catholic whose parents were immigrants from Puerto Rico, Bonet was raised in Hoboken. She studied business and exercise physiology at William Paterson University.
Bonet said the fact that she is not Jewish “doesn’t matter at all” in regard to her leading the agency.
“Most of the clients are not Jewish, either,” she noted. “It did not come up at all in discussions with the people who hired me. They were looking for the best and the brightest to manage this type of organization.”
JVS board chair Sid Seligman of South Orange told NJJN, “Our agency is firmly rooted in the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and in Jewish tradition. The strategic direction of the agency and its roots in the Jewish community will certainly not change.
“But the fact that the executive director happens not to be Jewish doesn’t fundamentally change the nature of the agency. She was hired because she was the best person for the job.”
In fact, Bonet said, she is advocating an expansion of the JVS board.
“Currently the board is all Jewish,” she said. “I think we have to diversify our board. The board has to reflect the communities we serve and the clients we are serving. I think the board made that commitment by hiring a CEO who is non-Jewish. They realize that in order for us to provide good service, we have to be open to that.”
Although talks with the Philadelphia vocational agency are preliminary, Bonet said she believes a joint venture “would strengthen us. JEVS is a larger organization, and it would provide us with support. We would still be autonomous. We are not going to merge. There is a difference between merging and partnering. This affiliation would be more of a partnership.”
Bonet said her “ultimate agenda is to continue to serve people who need our services, to continue to help people to help themselves, and to run a real strong organization with strong programs and a very high level staff, and to build a strong board.”