The Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh is saying farewell this month to two longtime employees whose contributions have helped grow the agency and shape its image.
Becky Abrams, who has served as director of the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry (SHCFP) for the last six and a half years, has resigned to assume the position of communication affairs specialist at Highmark Inc., where she will focus on sponsorships, grant making and special community programs.
Laurie Gottlieb, the director of marketing and annual fundraising for JF&CS since 1995, will be leaving to become the chief communications officer at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, where she will provide communications support to senior level staff. Chief communications officer is a new position at JHF.
While her years at the SHCFP have been rewarding, Abrams said she was ready to take on new challenges at Highmark.
“One of my long-range goals was to work in philanthropy,” she said, “so this was the next step for me.”
Abrams holds a master’s degree in social work in administration, social policy and planning from the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work, and a bachelor’s degree in communication and psychology from Chatham University.
During her time at the SHCFP, Abrams became instrumental in transitioning the agency from its old model on Forward Avenue, where clients received prepackaged and preselected food, to a new model of “consumer choice” on Hazelwood Avenue, where clients are free to “shop” the pantry, and place the items they want in a grocery cart, giving the clients “dignity and choice,” according to Abrams.
“So many great things have happened,” said Abrams of her time at the SHCFP. “The biggest highlights for me were getting to work with all the volunteers, all the clients and the community partners in making the food pantry what it is. Another highlight was raising awareness that there are hungry people in Squirrel Hill.”
Abrams was key in giving the SHCFP direction, and making the organization “more impactful in our community, and working collaboratively with other organizations to make sure our clients got the services they needed in addition to food,” said Aryeh Sherman, president and CEO of JF&CS.
Likewise, Gottlieb, in her tenure at JF&CS became instrumental in creating a positive image of the agency, according to Sherman.
“Laurie had a big influence on the image of JF&CS, so we’ve been understood more clearly by the community, ” Sherman said.
In addition to spearheading major agency events such as annual meetings, and last week’s 75th anniversary celebration, Gottlieb worked well with the board of JF&CS in raising funds.
Through her marketing work, Gottlieb “expanded our footprint beyond print to the Internet and social media,” Sherman said.
Although leaving JF&CS was “bittersweet,” Gottlieb said she is looking forward to her new role at the JHF.
“My new position at JHF actually melds all of my background and experience,” Gottlieb said.
She has both a business degree and an applied math degree from Carnegie Mellon University, and a master’s degree from the School of Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. Her prior work experience includes several years at two high tech companies focusing on increasing efficiency, and marketing which will provide a strong background for her work with JHF’s Perfecting Patient Care program.
“I just thought it was time for a new challenge,” Gottlieb said. “I have loved working at JF&CS for the past 17 years. The staff is exceptional, professional, knowledgeable and compassionate; and the mission to help those who are struggling is critical. I am proud of the part I have played in the growth of the agency, helping to raise awareness of the critical work JF&CS does to help individuals and families who are struggling with lifecycle transitions and crises. And I am looking forward to my new position and to being able to continue to make a difference through my work at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.”
The JF&CS has received hundreds of resumes for both Abrams’ and Gottlieb’s posts, Sherman said, and is “well along the way for selecting the next candidates to fill the positions.”
He is looking forward to bringing some new perspectives to the agency.
“I think once you have new staff in place, hopefully they will bring some creative ideas,” he said. “We hope to see some new initiatives and perspectives on how to reach more people and serve more people, and help more people resolve the issues they are facing.”
In the interim, Sherman said, current staff members are taking on more responsibilities, and volunteers have stepped up to the plate to help.
“At the food pantry, volunteers have been chipping in already,” he said. “That program can’t exist without volunteers; they are its heart and soul. They came forward to help, and we appreciate that immensely.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)