Detroit Jewish Service Agencies Explore Innovation and Collaboration in Baltimore

Detroit Jewish agency professionals visit Baltimore for learning and collaboration.

It was a whirlwind 48 hours when professionals from our local Jewish service agencies touched down in Baltimore on a trip dubbed the “Executive Expedition.”

The goal of the trip was for agency professionals to visit a city that offered different programming to their Jewish community. Baltimore was chosen because it is a similar in size to Metro Detroit with unique offerings the professionals were eager to learn more about, said Ashley Schnaar, from the Planning & Agency Relations department at Federation, who adds that the trip was possible thanks to the Gerson Innovation Fund.

The group took a tour of a technology classroom in Baltimore.

The Gerson Innovation Fund was started by the William Davidson Foundation to honor Dorothy and Byron Gerson. Dorothy was William Davidson’s sister, and they were very close, according to her son Ralph Gerson. “Both my parents and the the Davidson Foundation are particularly interested in innovation,” Gerson said. “Bill was entrepreneurial and innovative and likes to see people encouraged to think in a creative way. We thought that it would make some sense to help the Federation try and do some innovative things with the Jewish agencies. So, we put together a fund for innovation to sponsor projects that the staff would bring to a committee,” he added.

The idea for agency professionals to visit another city was creative, Gerson said. “First, to see if we could learn some new approaches we could take back to Detroit, but also for the agency leaders to spend time together talking about their goals.”

Schnaar said Federation’s Planning & Agency Relations team had been looking for a travel opportunity for agency professionals and at the same time was working on a plan to support older adults in the Detroit Jewish community. “Thanks to the Gerson Innovation Fund, we were able to combine those goals with the Executive Expedition,” she said.

Ashley Schnaar
Ashley Schnaar
Ralph Gerson
Ashley Schnaar
Daniella Mechnikov
Ashley Schnaar
Paul Blatt
Ashley Schnaar
Perry Ohren
Ashley Schnaar
Shaindle Braunstein
On the Ground in Baltimore

Trip participants included Perry Ohren of Jewish Family Service, Paul Blatt of Gesher Human Services, Shaindle Braunstein of JARC, Bassie Shemtov of Friendship Circle, Rabbi Joseph Krakoff of the Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network; Nancy Heinrich of Jewish Senior Life, Daniella Mechnikov of Yad Ezra and Tzadok Eliyahu of Detroit Chesed. Brian Rothenberg, CEO Steven Ingber and Schnaar represented Federation.

While in Baltimore, the professionals visited the Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore; CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance; the Weinberg Foundation; Adamah’s Pearlstone Retreat Center; Na’aleh: The Hub for Leadership Learning; Macks Center for Jewish Connections; Jewish Educational Services; Ahavas Yisrael Charity Fund; CHANA Baltimore; and Jewish Community Services.

Daniella Mechnikov of Yad Ezra said she enjoyed visiting the Baltimore organizations that deal with food insecurity and urban gardening, and she enjoyed getting to know the other agency professionals from Detroit.

“We all talked about what we do and started to talk about collaborative ideas,” said Mechnikov, who came home from the trip with new ideas for Yad Ezra’s Giving Gardens and ideas to better serve senior citizens working with Jewish Senior Life.

“The trip also gave me a better perspective on how our organization can relate better with Federation, and I think it did that for everybody,” she said.

Paul Blatt from Gesher Human Services said he came away with ideas to continue building on its relationship with Jewish Senior Life and new ways to work with Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy. “There were many good conversations we had as a result of this trip,” he said. “I also came back knowing Detroit has a strong Jewish community. We have great collaboration. We have strong relationships with our Federation. That doesn’t always happen in other cities.”

Perry Ohren of JFS said the primary win of the trip for him was to be able to spend time with his colleagues from other agencies and Federation “so that we can lean into making our community’s human service infrastructure even better than it already is.”

He added that it was great to see how another community tackled its challenges.

“It was great to see how another community’s makes its special sauce. I think that we brought back many ingredients to improve our special sauce because Baltimore is also an exemplary community. We started off as an exemplary community and learning more from others in Baltimore was just eye-opening.”

Perry Ohren, Jewish Family Service of Detroit

Shaindle Braunstein of JARC came away with a new volunteer opportunity. “There was a program we saw that provided technology classes for older adults,” she said.

The group toured Adamah’s Pearlstone Retreat Center.

Nancy said she would love to do something like it at Jewish Senior Life. “I’ve spent a lot of time in technology and computer training and that actually speaks to my strengths. I told her I would love to do some volunteering,” she said.

Braunstein added that she also recognized that the Detroit Jewish community is second-to-none in taking care of our frail, older adult populations. “We’re really here for the vulnerable.”

According to Schnaar, the professionals who went on the trip are planning subsequent meetings to get together and strategize and there have been talks about doing site visits to one another’s agencies.

“Detroit has such a strong Jewish communal infrastructure already,” Schnaar said. “I think the biggest takeaway we came home with is our agencies need to know what each is offering so they can better collaborate and help community members connect to those services.”