Federation grants program grows

by Marla Cohen 

hand out with moneyThe Jewish Federation of Rockland County will allocate nearly $100,000 in grants in the upcoming campaign year to a variety of organizations and synagogue programs.

The money will support an array of community projects, varying in scope from a school startup, to home care for elderly Holocaust survivors, to synagogue outreach initiatives for new members. The grant program was initiated last year as a way of allocating communal funds to open up the allocations process to a greater number of organizations based on “compelling needs.”

This year, 11 organizations received funding for a total of 24 different grants, according to Federation Vice President Rob Grosser, who chaired the allocations committee. The committee, he said, represented a cross-section of community members who really took time assessing the value of each grant.

“The grant submissions were really thoughtful and well-presented and it was a very democratic and transparent process,” said Grosser. “I think the committee did a good job of vetting the requirements and weighing the importance of the grants.”

The grants allow Federation to better brand itself, by allowing Federation to give funding to where it will have the most impact.

“The compelling needs are somewhat fluid. They will potentially change from year to year with the circumstances at the time when the committee reviews them,” said Grosser. “From a fundraising perspective, it gives donors a chance to more closely relate to how contributions are being used, because it’s programmatic, not institutional.”

In the past, the Federation gave unrestricted core allocations to its beneficiary agencies, Hillel at SUNY Rockland, the Holocaust Museum and Study Center, JCC Rockland, Rockland Jewish Family Service and Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School. Last year, those organizations were held to 80 percent of the funds each had received in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, which created the pool of money from which the grants could be drawn.

All the agencies received grants in addition to the core funding. Last year, one synagogue, Nanuet Hebrew Center, applied for and receiving funding.

This year stood in marked contrast. The agencies were held to 50 percent of their 2010 funding. Six synagogues applied for and received funding, including one for a collaborative program between three of them. There was no Gittelman school, and the fledgling Rockland Jewish Academy, a pluralistic day school that will open this fall at the Rockland Jewish Community Campus, received nearly $20,000 for scholarships and start up funding.

The RJA’s needs, in particular, spoke loudly to the Federation’s core mission of seeding new organizations, according to Federation President Nat Wasserstein.

“This is a big part of what we want to do, not only fund existing programs that provide services that are compelling to the community, but to seed and incubate new programs,” said Wasserstein. “The RJA is the perfect candidate, the perfect opportunity.”

The Federation has stood strongly behind the RJA launch and been a very supportive partner, said Brenda Lender, who has been steering the RJA startup.

“They’ve been supportive not just financially, but they believe in the project,” she said. “It’s a community issue about growth and development, so we really have had some kind of partnership and I’m overjoyed….It sends an important message to the community.”
Nanuet Hebrew Center, Orangetown Jewish Center and Temple Beth Sholom worked collaboratively to create four programs during the year to bring together children from all of their Hebrew schools. Other synagogues can participate, and the program seeks to engage 400-500 students in afterschool activities that will stress Jewish law through mitzvot. Some of the projects will focus on welcoming guests around the holiday of Sukkot, feeding the hungry through the Rhoda Bloom Kosher Food Pantry, focusing on ecology for Tu b’Shvat and a Purim celebration.

Sandy Peck-Borowsky, principal at OJC’s Hebrew school, wrote the grant with NHC Educational Director Tamar Leuscher and TBS Religious School Director Marian Fellowes. The idea was to create educational opportunities that would expand the student’s sense of the outside Jewish world, as well, she said.

“We wanted to bring our children together to celebrate haggim apart from their particular silos of Reform and Conservative Judaism,” said Peck-Borowsky, of the nearly $9,000 grant the three received. “Our children need to know there is a community for them and they can celebrate in their own synagogue, but also in the wider community.”

Outreach to younger members that seemed to have truly caught the eye of the Federation. Both CSI Nyack and New City Jewish Center received funds to expand existing programs to young members groups that have caught on. NCJC received funding for its three-year-old Young Members Association, which includes a successful M&M Shabbat program geared toward young families, and progressive dinners aimed at “just adults.”

CSI Nyack received a grant to continue its Party on the Porch program, which is aimed primarily at those in their 20s and 30s with informal programming and dining at the vegetarian restaurant, Art Café. The grant allows the program to grow beyond Art Café, said Abraham, giving it funds to create new programs, such as Shabbat dinners and social outings, for the group.

In addition CSI received funds for its Visions Lecture Series, which ran this past year, bringing a variety of unique speakers to the Nyack congregation. Abraham felt the projects spoke to Federation because they sought to reach a wider community.

“This is part of Federation’s goal and vision,” he said.

Grants touched on other common themes as well, including those that focused on special needs populations. JFS received funds for its internship program for teens with high-functioning autism. The program places them in work situations at a variety of community organizations. They receive supervision, counseling and instruction on exercise, nutrition and other life skills. As well, the organization received funding for its Traditions program, which provides Jewish programming around holidays for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A grant to OJC provides funding for an educational director and fulltime learning specialist for its special education program.

JCC Rockland received funding for a variety of programs, including its second annual cultural arts festival, Israel programming, JCC Jr. Maccabi Games and others. The Holocaust Museum received funding to complete its project of creating video montage from Holocaust survivor testimony. As well, it received a second year of funding for its Tisha b’Av programming, which attracted more than 300 people primarily members of the Haredi community, as an outreach program.

An oversight committee, established last year, will monitor recipients’ progress and compliance, as well as evaluate the projects, said Wasserstein, who has pushed the grants program as a way for Federation to be more responsive to community needs as well as responsible with donor funds. Overall, he was pleased with the number and variety of applications in this year’s process.

“Agencies are working together on projects and more synagogues have applied,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see that so many applicants are collaborating. We’re moving in the right direction because the process itself is helping to unify the community, and the resources we have are going further”.

July/August 2012

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