Jewish Family & Career Services hired a new CEO, Terri Bonoff, who not only has prior experience with a similar organization in her hometown of Minneapolis. But she also brings a legislative background that should help her chart a new path for the more than 125-year-old Atlanta institution that provides clinical and career services to the community.
A former business executive with several companies, Bonoff served as a Minnesota state senator from 2005 to 2016. She received a community award for her work gaining funding for a parent-child program of the Minneapolis Jewish Family & Children’s Services.
“The nonprofit world is changing,” Bonoff told the AJT a day after the announcement of her new position. “We get support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and United Way of Greater Atlanta and those models are changing. Nonprofits must rethink their models to make sure the same value propositions meet the needs of the 21st century.”
Bonoff will assume the CEO role on June 3, but she’s already enthusiastically meeting people in the community and preparing for her new job. “It’s all about listening and learning within the first 90 days,” she said, noting that she will “craft a vision to make sure everyone (on the JF&CS staff) is on the same page. She also already met with several rabbis and the head of the Jewish Federation.
She acknowledged that it was a risk for JF&CS to hire someone who didn’t have long-time roots in the community, but Bonoff believes her political experience will assist her. “You never leave politics. Everything is political. It’s all about generating support based on shared values.”
After a college roommate told her about the job opening, Bonoff started asking around to learn more about JF&CS. “They have an extraordinary reputation. It’s rare to have an opportunity to walk into the top role with an organization as strong and mission-driven as JF&CS,” she said.
Most of Bonoff’s recent work has involved children and students.
While living in Minneapolis – where she still has a home to which her four children gather from around the country – Bonoff was very connected to the local JFCS. “I helped pass legislation for funding for the Parent-Child Home Program for low-income families” run by the Minneapolis JFCS, for which she received the Jewish Community Relations Council Sam Shiner award.
The Parent-Child Home Program is designed to coach immigrant parents so that their young children learn English sooner. “Studies show children need to be exposed to English to be successful in school,” she said. Similarly, studies indicate that children need to read by third grade and Bonoff is already talking about programs in Atlanta that could bring educators and community leaders together “around key societal problems,” such as that. “Resources are available,” she notes.
As chair of the Minnesota Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, Bonoff advocated for legislation to create the Minnesota PIPELINE (Private Investment, Public Education, Labor and Industry Experience) Project, which expands dual training and apprenticeship programs in that state by partnering employers and students for internships.
After Bonoff’s husband took a job as senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Delta Air Lines in late 2015, bringing him to Atlanta, Bonoff joined the Georgia Tech Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing to launch an Atlanta PIPELINE Project. This pilot program partnered Purpose Built Schools, an Atlanta nonprofit committed to breaking the cycle of poverty through high performing schools, with leading companies in Atlanta. The program worked with students at Carver High School in East Lake.
As CEO, her job will be to find funding to support JF&CS’s staff of some 200 people. The funding would also support programs in both the Jewish and non-Jewish community. “JF&CS serves well beyond the Jewish community, responding to needs,” she said.
Bonoff points to the Ben Massell Dental Clinic as an example of JF&CS’s support of the wider community. For more than 100 years, 150 volunteer dentists have been providing quality dental care at no cost to those who cannot afford it.
According to Jeff Alperin, president of the JF&CS board, “Terri’s combined business acumen and political experience and her success in building transformative social services programs make her an excellent choice to lead our agency. She shares our passion for making a difference in the lives of others.”
Bonoff said she believes her leadership will stand “on the shoulders of all who have shaped and created the impactful JF&CS family legacy.” Once Bonoff assumes the top spot, interim CEO Faye Dresner will resume her previous role as JF&CS chief program officer, a position she’s held since 2015.