ORT, an organization dedicated to providing vocational training for disadvantaged Jews worldwide, is one of Atlanta’s best-kept secrets, says Rachel Miller, who was hired late in the summer as the Atlanta regional director of ORT America.
“It is the world’s pre-eminent Jewish educational organization with programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math,” Miller said in a recent interview.
Miller brings two decades of experience in fundraising for nonprofit organizations such as the Jewish Federations of North America and American Jewish Committee. She replaced Jay Tenenbaum, who resigned in March to take a job in Florida.
Her goal is to make ORT’s mission resonate in Atlanta while leveraging her relationships with donors.
“Our supporters are smart, dedicated people who value education as the foundation for professional success and community development; this is the profile of donors who help further our programs,” she said.
ORT was founded in Russia in 1880 to provide vocational training to impoverished Jews. The organization now operates in 37 countries and is training teachers in addition to teaching students.
“ORT programs are comprehensive. They optimize learning for students and teaching for educators, making our scope multidimensional,” Miller said, highlighting the ripple effect of teaching teachers to spread ORT’s vocational training to more students.
Education, women and children have always been a passion for Miller. Before ORT she was the director of philanthropy at the Global Village Project, a school for refugee girls in Decatur, where she raised more than $1 million.
Now Miller’s work in Atlanta directly affects a high school for underprivileged children at Hodayot Youth Village in Israel, part of the World ORT Kadima Mada educational network. Adopted by ORT Atlanta, the school is home to more than 250 students whose families face socio-economic challenges and who have failed in traditional schools.
Hodayot needs significant renovations to bring it up to 21st century standards.
Miller is using her background in raising major gifts to improve the infrastructure while also working on the educational component. She said some donors are stepping up to establish an empowerment center at Hodayot to give the kids psychological help and provide other types of educational support.
Part of her new strategic plan is to access the burgeoning tech industry in Atlanta, which she said is the most logical approach.
“We’re looking at how we might attract Atlanta business leaders and students in media and startups and technology to benefit our programs in Israel,” Miller said. “The importance of STEM education related to the demands of our 21st century is increasing rapidly, and ORT is at the forefront of that, with our initiatives in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Latin America and elsewhere geared toward preparing individuals for career success in our changing world. It’s logical for us to look among like-minded groups here for support.”
The local initiative in science, technology, engineering and mathematics will affect the school in Hodayot as well as ORT globally, Miller said.
“We’re going to look to see how Atlanta’s strength can add to ORT’s strength and vice versa,” she said.
Miller believes that with a good education, you can do anything.
“STEM education is crucial to the development of our future generations, and it offers young people necessary knowledge to become productive members of society. In Israel a good education enables high school graduates to succeed in the Israel Defense Forces before their next studies,” Miller said.
“Technology makes the world more interconnected, opens possibilities for collaboration and sharing, and bridges cultures, and entrepreneurship drives new development. ORT takes this into account, and Kadima Mada helps make it happen. ORT students, in Israel and in other countries, are primed for the future.”