By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD – When Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford (JFS) launched Jewish Employment Transition Services (JETS) three years ago, organizers were responding to local
fallout from the economic crisis. The last thing they expected was that the program would become one of the largest employment-support networks in the state.
It was late 2008 when HR professional Judy Rosenthal first heard from JFS. “They told me that they were getting calls from middle- and upper-class families, churches and synagogues, the JCC and Federation, from people who had lost their jobs or who had not been in the job market for 10 or 20 years,” Rosenthal says. “There were significant layoffs throughout the community, and people were asking for financial help, but also for help with resume-preparation and interview skills.”
Rosenthal joined a small committee to craft an initial response – a series of workshops on conducting a job search in the suddenly dark employment environment. The first program, a three-hour workshop, drew 90 participants.
JFS partnered with the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and several area synagogues, and was offered meeting space at the Mandell JCC of Greater Hartford.
In early 2009, Rosenthal and other volunteers facilitated classes under the auspices of the newly formed JETS. Then, guided by Rosenthal’s personal mantra, “network, network, network,” JETS launched the Schmoozer’s Job Network. Now entering its fourth season, the bi-monthly program brings together more than 100 people at Beth El Temple in West Hartford; Rosenthal has become JETS’s volunteer program coordinator.
As JFS was putting together JETS, Royal Bank of Canada investment advisor Jim Goldman was looking for a way to help out in the community. He called JFS and offered his financial skills.
“JFS knew that they needed to create a response to the economic crisis on the job side, and I wanted to create a response on the financial side,” says Goldman, who volunteers every Wednesday at JFS as the Money Coach, helping JETS participants and others untangle their finances. He also gives a “Financial Minute” presentation at every Schmoozer’s Job Network meeting.
“The feeling I get when I meet with someone and am really able to help them is incomparable,” Goldman says.JETS has kept up with the slow economic recovery by adding services and workshops – all free of charge – to meet current and changing needs. The program engages some 1,850 Connecticut and Massachusetts residents, and has helped nearly 600 people find jobs.
In addition to the Schmoozer’s Job Network and the Money Coach, JETS participants can get one-on-one help with resume preparation and interview skills. Rosenthal fields 20 to 30 emails a week containing specific questions and concerns.
JETS receives support from throughout the community, says JFS executive director Anne Danaher. Funding comes from several key sources, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, RBC Foundation, the Foundation for Financial Planning, and Liberty Bank, as well as private family foundations within the Jewish Community Foundation and private individual donations. In addition, “this program is a strong testament to the power of volunteerism,” says Danaher. “We have other human-resources and career counselors who donate time to work one-on-one with JETS participants, and all workshop presenters volunteer their time as well.” Rabbi James Rosen at host site Beth El Temple in West Hartford “has been just incredible,” Rosenthal says.
JETS is unique for another reason, Rosenthal says: because it is offered through JFS, participants can get access to the array of other human-services support offered by the agency.
Speakers, all renowned in their respective fields, cover the nuts and bolts of the job search – personal branding, social media, keeping up skills, salary negotiations – and presentations enter emotional territory as well. The two emotional support groups offered yearly fill up as soon as they are announced, and a motivational presentation by humorist and UConn professor Gina Barecca last year drew 500 people.
Over the past year, JETS has developed a partnership with Encore!Hartford at UConn, offering resume preparation and interview skills to displaced corporate and public-service
professionals transitioning into the non-profit sector.
Rosenthal says that she has two personal goals. “When somebody tells me that they’ve landed a new job, I call that my million-dollar bonus,” she says. The second wish is to enter a Schmoozer’s Job Network meeting and find the room empty.
Even if and when the economy improves, Rosenthal sees an ongoing role for JETS among JFS’s offerings.
“I call JFS ‘a diamond in the rough,’ because they help so many people in so many ways,” she says. “They will always be there for the community and that’s why I feel so strongly about
supporting them. I believe that you have to be there to help others because one day, you may need help.”
For more information on JETS: www.jfshartford.org / (860) 236-1927