New leadership takes the reins as NCJW Pittsburgh prepares for the future
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Transition125-year-old not for profit names new senior leaders

New leadership takes the reins as NCJW Pittsburgh prepares for the future

“We can take an issue, focus that down to the community level and start working with the stakeholders."

MomsWork Ice Cream social. Photo provided by National Council of Jewish Women.
MomsWork Ice Cream social. Photo provided by National Council of Jewish Women.

For more than 125 years the National Council of Jewish Women Pittsburgh has advocated on behalf of women, children and families. Last month, the nonprofit took another step forward, naming Marissa Fogel its executive director and Megan Rose its senior director of community engagement.

Both Fogel and Rose have a passion for NCJW, as well as for strengthening their community through nonprofit work. Before coming to NJCW, Fogel developed 412 Food Rescue’s Good Food Project and Rose spent time at the United Way. In fact, it was through her work with the United Way that NCJW first came onto Rose’s radar.

“The Center for Women project (now known as MomsWork, which helps women obtain financial wellbeing) was part of a larger grant I oversaw through the United for Women initiative,” Rose said. “It was then I learned about the free financial coaching for women.”

Rose, who has a background in family law and working with survivors of intimate partner violence, said she was intrigued by the program.

“I know how important financial independence is for women,” she said.

For Fogel, the opportunity to take the helm of NCJW was a return to her family roots.

“I came from a family of Jewish women who were involved in social action,” she said. “In a lot of ways, I was brought up in this culture of participation and collaboration and contribution of time, care and compassion. It’s in my blood.”

Engaging young leaders
Fogel’s goals, she said, include taking the organization out of siloed work into a more collaborative space. She’s also interested in engaging young leaders.

“I think there’s a wonderful opportunity to get more folks from the community involved with the work we’re doing,” she said. “I think it speaks to a lot of people, especially the millennial and Gen Z generation.”

She hopes leaders with a proven track record and institutional knowledge will work with the next generation to create opportunities for them to feel fulfilled working with NCJW, she said.

Reevaluation and transition
Fogel and Rose’s leadership opportunities came following a period of reevaluation and transition at NCJW.

The organization, Rose said, created a task force last summer and examined several questions. For example, how can NCJW Pittsburgh shift its service work to change systems that perpetuate racial, gender and other disparities and inequities? How does it move from a transactional to a relational model of community service and allyship? Should its work be driven and informed by programs and projects or key issues? What is the role of volunteerism and direct service in today’s world? And what is NCJW’s potential to build on its current strength and capacity?

The process included considering questions such as the nature of community allyship and the connection between community service and social change. The organization also assessed of all its existing programs and projects.

One example of the change inspired by the evaluation, Rose said, is the transition of the annual back-to-school store event to the Kids Community Closet program, which provides children with essential clothing year-round in their communities.

Fogel noted that this type of project-based work is best centered in the communities it impacts. She hopes that young leaders become engaged in the organization when they see the value of their work in locales it directly impacts.

Shifting ground
Fogel and Rose not only assumed their NCJW leadership positions as the organization was entering a period of self-evaluation, but they came on board at a time when the political landscape had shifted. It was only several months ago that many people assumed that abortion would remain a protected right throughout the country and that the fight for marriage equality was over.

“One of the things I appreciate most about NCJW Pittsburgh,” Rose said, “is that we’re nimble enough to respond to the emerging conditions or challenges facing our community. Reproductive justice is no exception to that.”

The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision has left a lot of organizations acting with a sense of urgency, working to discern where they can best support access to reproductive health care and assist in educating community members, she added.

NCJW Pittsburgh, Fogel said, operates at the intersection of project-based and issue-based work, and it’s important for the organization to engage young leaders who are talking about issues like reproductive health on social media.

Think national, act local
NCJW Pittsburgh is the local chapter of a national organization, and there are advantages to that structure, Rose said.

There’s an “opportunity to connect to other sections to find out what’s working as they establish their particular lane as it relates to reproductive justice,” she said, adding that she plans to reach out to NCJW LA to discuss “a cool program around guaranteed income.”

The community engagement director said the local chapter can borrow ideas and seek support from other sections, in addition to having some of its priorities flow from the national NCJW.

“I’d say that makes both the macro and micro possible,” she said.

The goal is to keep NCJW Pittsburgh’s mission at the center of their work, Fogel said.

“What that looks like for us is finding the intersectionality between issue-based work and project-based work,” she said. “For example, our Children’s Rooms in the Courts are an example of the kind of program and system of support that gives visibility to childcare issues, or the lack of paid childcare, for working families.”

Fogel said the program can provide an opportunity to talk about pay equity and link to voting rights issues.

“We can take an issue, focus that down to the community level and start working with the stakeholders,” she said.

Jewish principles
The mission of NCJW may sound like many other women’s advocacy groups, Fogel said, but the work of NCJW is filtered through a Jewish lens.

“The basis of tikkun olam and using the idea of repairing the world centers us constantly around issues like race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, immigration status,” she said. “For us, it’s the core driver. Tikkun olam is what centers us in this work.”

NCJW Pittsburgh is co-sponsoring the Just Film series on Sept. 20 at Chatham University. The film “The Janes” will be screened followed by a panel discussion. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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