Orthodox women leaders learn to guide nonprofits
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Orthodox women leaders learn to guide nonprofits

Touro’s Chesed Program outlines priorities in establishing the most effective tools

Dr. Aimee Baron, left, Teaneck-based NechamaComfort’s director of innovation and growth, Cindy Darrison, Chesed Leadership Program’s director, and Alexandra Roth-Kahn, director of UJA-Federation’s Caring department (Photo by Kalinin Photography for Touro College)
Dr. Aimee Baron, left, Teaneck-based NechamaComfort’s director of innovation and growth, Cindy Darrison, Chesed Leadership Program’s director, and Alexandra Roth-Kahn, director of UJA-Federation’s Caring department (Photo by Kalinin Photography for Touro College)

After Dr. Aimee Baron suffered six miscarriages following the birth of her third child, she decided to take time off from her job as in-house pediatrician at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan to consult specialists near and far.

Though her search produced no definitive answers, her next pregnancy produced the double blessing of twins who soon will turn five years old.

About two and a half years ago, Dr. Baron spoke about her experience in her Riverdale neighborhood. This is where she was told about NechamaComfort, a Teaneck-based organization founded by Reva Judas in 2009 to support families anywhere, of all Jewish backgrounds, through the trauma of miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss.

“It was crazy that Reva lived 15 minutes away and nobody had ever mentioned her name to me before,” Dr. Baron said. “NechamaComfort was run mostly by word of mouth, and few people beyond Teaneck knew it existed.”

Within a short time, Dr. Baron joined NechamaComfort as its director of innovation and growth. She took on the responsibility of guiding its future in tandem with Ms. Judas, who lives in Teaneck, and two other new staff members, but there was much she still had to learn about nurturing a nonprofit organization.

Now she has a whole new skillset to bring to her task after completing the six-month Chesed Leadership Program, a fellowship designed for Orthodox Jewish women leading nonprofit and social-service organizations. CLP is offered to qualified fellows for free, thanks to a partnership between UJA-Federation of New York, Lander College for Women, and the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work.

“This course taught me there were so many things I didn’t even know I should know about,” Dr. Baron said.

From January to June, the cohort met twice a month, usually at Touro’s school of social work in Brooklyn. Among the many practical topics the course covered were how to structure a nonprofit board of directors and how to find the right board members and define their terms and responsibilities; how to identify populations for effective fundraising, and how best to approach potential donors. Students also learned about federal and state rules and regulations that govern how to run a nonprofit and how to keep accurate, accessible accounting records; about using social media in the most effective way to reach target audiences, and about which elements ought to be included in a nonprofit’s website.

“It was a tremendous gift to be in a group like this,” Dr. Baron said. “The relationships I have built with these women, including the program director, Cindy Darrison, have already been and will continue to be my lifelines.”

Each of the 18 CLP fellows in this second cohort of the program was paired with a mentor who is a seasoned nonprofit executive. Mentors worked one-on-one with participants to expand on what was covered in the classes, answer questions specific to the needs of the particular organization, and help their charges plan for the future.

Dr. Baron noted that all the women in the cohort expressed the feeling of being pulled in different directions as mothers and as nonprofit executives “trying to run, or help run, organizations where people desperately need us.”

Accordingly, one class covered the so-called work-life balance, which was shown to be a rather elusive goal. “One of the takeaways was ‘Done is better than perfect.’ That really spoke to me,” Dr. Baron said. “And we created a WhatsApp group, including Cindy, so that now, even months later, if one of us is struggling with something we bounce it off the others and get immediate professional advice.”

She first heard about CLP from Allison Josephs, who lives in Bergen County and is the founding director of Jew in the City, a nonprofit dedicated to reversing negative associations about religious Jews and Orthodox Judaism. Ms. Josephs was a member of the first CLP cohort.

“Allison brought us on her radio show and afterward she and I chatted,” Dr. Baron said. “One of the key things she said was to recommend that I join the second cohort. She knew this would be something that I could bring back to the group.”

The application process involved submitting a resume, answering short essay questions, and coming in for an inperson interview.

Dr. Steven Huberman of Teaneck, who is the dean of the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work, said that a Harvard University study found two common traits of successful people: caring and competency, in that order.

“The women in this program already care — they are directing organizations that address key challenges facing our community and they are dedicated to serving those in need every day,” Dr. Huberman said. “Through the Chesed Leadership Program, we helped them build the skills they need to develop competency so they can lead and serve in a more professional way.”

Graduates of the fellowship program lead a variety of organizations addressing issues such as addiction prevention, coping with autism, patient advocacy, training for Orthodox mental health professionals, and more. For some, the charitable work they do is voluntary and represents a commitment to a cause by which they were personally touched.

According to Sara Rivka Kohn, the program’s commencement speaker and the director of LINKS, an organization that supports grieving children and teens, “This program taught us the skills so that when we say yes to another project, we will do it right. My staff actually held their breath every time I came into the office the day after one of my classes. I was so motivated and eager to implement everything I learned right away. It meant more work for all of us, but better service for those who need us.”

“I’m so proud of our graduates, who are making the most vulnerable among us feel part of the Jewish community,” said Alexandra Roth-Kahn, managing director of the Caring Department at UJA-Federation. “Through their work, they are affirming the diversity of our community and expanding and strengthening it to include so many in need.”

Dr. Baron said that the course “has really been an incredible piece of my life. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity.”

Women leading nonprofit organizations in the Orthodox community who are interested in more information or who wish to apply for the next Chesed Leadership Program cohort should email Ms. Darrison at cynthia.darrison@touro.edu

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