The Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta is launching a new initiative designed to give Jewish women the tools to use their voices to bring about change. The women’s group announced the names of 20 women chosen for its groundbreaking new program called Agents of Change Training or ACT.
“This is a significant initiative that came out of our strategic plan,” JWFA executive director Rachel Wasserman told the AJT. “This has been our dream for years to have this program. We’ve spent the last year on developing it. We’ve been a funding program, not an operational program. It’s been difficult to make an impact only through grants. This is another way to impact the Atlanta Jewish community.”
Noting that JWFA’s mission is to promote social change, Wasserman acknowledges that the organization will “never be able to measure the extraordinary ripple effects” of ACT on the Atlanta Jewish community. Each of the 20 women in the pilot program, who are ages 30 to 68, “come from their own community, family, work environment and organizations.”
The 20 women chosen for the nine-month program are: Amy Fox, Andi Neiman, Beth Sherman, Caren Cohen, Dr. Eve Wexler, Felicia Marable, Gabby Spatt, Hannah Spinrad, Jan Jay, Jennifer Mosbacher, Joanna Israel, Julie Mokotoff, Lauren Sturisky, Leslie Reitman, Dr. Lynn Bahr, Melissa Kaplan, Rabba Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, Sheryl Lyss, Susie Greenberg, and Tracy Rosenbluth Howard.
The women who were chosen all committed to attend every program with one absence. “We recognize that they are very busy women,” said Wasserman, who noted that all the women self-identified as being in the Jewish community.
“Almost all of the day schools and many of the congregations are represented. We wanted diversity in every way possible.” The group includes several doctors and holders of advanced degrees, and women from many different stages of their lives.
“We had significantly more applications than we expected,” said Wasserman, adding that the application period was open for several months. “We wanted to keep the size down to allow for close connections and for them to feel like they are in a cohesive unit. We’ll decide if the size is right and tweak it if necessary.”
According to Andrea Jaron, JWFA chair since July 1, ACT will be an “evolutionary program. That’s the beauty of this: the willingness of the participants to be flexible. They must be nimble. One of the things I’ve always said about the Women’s Fund is that we think outside the box. This program provides an opportunity for our trustees to have experiences that are different.”
Jaron particularly pointed to the mentoring program that will be launched halfway through ACT. “It’s a two-way street in which everyone can be learning from each other,” she said.
Wasserman called it a mentor/mentee program. “This won’t be top-down, from the trustees, but we hope that unofficially relationships will form. We’re looking at partnerships,” she said. She acknowledged the challenge of making the appropriate matches, based on what each woman is looking for in the program. Each woman is being asked specifically what they want to work on.
Amy Fox is very clear about her goal. “I am trying to get more women of my generation – 30s to 50s – to be more involved in the Jewish Federation” of Greater Atlanta. “I’ve been involved in the Federation for years and I’ve had conversations with colleagues about what types of programming can we do to get more women involved. Everyone is wondering where this generation of women is going. They have so much going on with children and careers.”
Fox explained that now that her children are in high school, she is in a “transitional stage of my life and I want to know how I can have more impact in the community.” She said she is excited about the new JWFA program. “I loved the concept. They’re helping us become a change agent.”
According to Fox, “There are so many amazing women in this community and I look forward to connecting with people who have been through what I’m going through. But I’m also thinking of ways to take something small and get more people involved.”
Gabby Spatt, who works for The Blue Dove Foundation, which focuses on mental health, told the AJT that she’s interested in the “intergenerational piece” of ACT.
“A lot of women don’t have children here and I don’t have a mother here. I look at other women who have done it all and I want to learn from them. I don’t have children yet and I want to ask, ‘How do you have a family, career and civic involvement?’”
Spatt said she knows two of the younger ACT participants already but doesn’t know any of the older ones. “I believe in women-only experiences and I love trying new things.”
According to Wasserman, the applicants included a number of women who are in the empty-nester phase or close to it and they are “evaluating where they are as a person. Their identity is changing in the same way as a woman who is just becoming a mother or a working mother.”
Or as Jaron puts it, “Every woman coming to this program is coming from a different place with a different destination.”