Over the next few months, the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta will be studying local Jewish women and girls to ascertain their needs and issues and more accurately focus the group’s future funding priorities. Researchers at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and Steinhardt Social Research Institute have been contracted to conduct the research and provide a report in June.
JWFA is a grant-making organization founded in 2012 that will have gifted nearly $1 million by the end of this year, says Rachel Wasserman, executive director. The group decided to fund the research after coming to the conclusion that “we needed quantifiable data on a local level to be the best grantmakers we can be. So far, we have only used national statistics or anecdotes, but we needed actual hard data about Atlanta,” Wasserman told the AJT.
According to Lisa Fox Freedman, co-chair of the community needs assessment, “Our goal with the study is to be able to invest in Jewish women and girls in Atlanta in the best way. We want to uncover their most pressing needs and, from there, look at the community and see if anyone there is an appropriate fit to come up with solutions.”
From the beginning of JWFA, “we wanted to support women and girls in Atlanta and Israel. In the last few years we have received a lot of grant requests from Israel, and we’re happy to do that, but we want to get more quality requests from Atlanta and then we’ll go make them happen,” Friedman said, adding that JWFA is “really excited to partner with Brandeis.”
The Cohen Center is an interdisciplinary institute that conducts research on all aspects of Jewish life in the United States and abroad, said Brandeis research scientist Fern Chertok. “We are best known as the evaluators of Birthright Israel,” she adds.
“The Jewish Women’s Fund invited us to respond to a request for proposals. They wanted to know the issues facing teens and women. We will be looking for actionable knowledge,” she said.
The first phase of the study, Chertok said, entails “talking to key informants, both professional and lay leaders, who have knowledge of the issues faced by women and girls in Atlanta. We’ll be asking what are the issues and what is available to help them? Then we’ll ask, where are the gaps and where would funding be most impactful?”
In the second phase, researchers will interview women. The focus will be on three categories: working women, issues surrounding the aging and caregivers, and teens. The latter will be studied via three to six focus groups of 12 to 15 teens, after receiving parental consent. Overall, Chertok hopes to include 30 to 40 women and girls in each of the categories to be studied.
Chertok’s team is recruiting girls and women through social media and various organizations, including synagogues, Jewish Family & Career Services, Sojourn, JumpSpark and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. “We are happy to have people reach out to us,” she said.
Chertok doesn’t expect to have much difficulty finding girls and teens willing to participate. “People tend to want to share their concerns,” she said.
“This is a very targeted study,” Chertok said. “We’re not attempting to get a global sample. We want to get a sense of the emerging themes, if we’re hearing similarities that they frame. We want to get a diversity of opinion to see where the commonalities emerge.”
The study will “give a voice to women and girls and what is important to them,” Chertok said. “We hope to find out where available resources fall short. What are the unmet needs?”
Wasserman would not divulge the cost of the study, but Friedman was confident that “it will be a great investment for us.” JWFA is funded by private donations, as well as some corporate donors and sponsors, Wasserman said. “We have over 100 women from the local Jewish philanthropic world who act as trustees and are involved in decision-making.”
When JWFA was founded, it was modeled after similar groups in other communities, added Wasserman. “We were late to come to Atlanta. Other cities had Jewish women’s funds for many years.” JWFA is part of The Jewish Women’s Funding Network, a collective of 25-member organizations engaged in social change fundraising, advocacy and grantmaking focused on women and girls.
Anyone interested in participating in the study can email, Atlwomen@brandeis.edu, or call, 781-736-2994. Teens must receive their parents’ approval to participate.