Startups and mergers are not just the stories of Silicon Valley. South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh, a community engagement initiative founded in 2014 with seed funding provided by private donors, will transition from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh by the close of the calendar year.
Although SHJP will turn 3½ on Jan. 1, its tale is already a decade old, explained Adam Hertzman, the Federation’s director of marketing.
Following the Federation’s 2002 community study, in which the organization identified a “large number of Jews in the South Hills,” Federation representatives began a series of conversations with community members regarding demographic assistance.
“We were looking for a way to reach out to that community more effectively and get them involved with Jewish Pittsburgh,” said Hertzman.
After identifying donors and initiating a program, SHJP was launched with the intent to create “a vibrant, interconnected, inspired and engaged South Hills Jewish community,” he added.
During those early days, “our focus was just to be a viable sustainable organization,” said Rob Goodman, SHJP’s director. Back then, we were “doing basic things in the South Hills,” such as “building up trust with our partner organizations [and] trying to weave our message into the existing cultures and people’s lives in the South Hills, both in the Jewish community and the secular community.”
But with time and effort, SHJP’s reach grew.
Two years ago, the initiative promoted 50 programs that attracted approximately 5,000 people. This past year, it supported more than 60 programs with more than 6,800 participants. Reflecting on those statistics, Goodman noted, “It’s taken us three-and-a-half years to build this from a startup to be a true self-sustaining organization.”
Given the “success and size of the program,” the time was right for moving SHJP to “a partner with experience maintaining great programs over the long term and with deep experience in the South Hills. The JCC perfectly fit that bill,” said Hertzman.
“We have been on the ground in the South Hills community for more than 25 years, and we’re still the only Jewish organization outside of a congregation with sustained physical infrastructure,” said Brian Schreiber, JCC’s president and CEO. “This move only enhances the Jewish Community Center’s role in the development of the South Hills Jewish community, our working relationship with other Jewish organizations and congregations in the South Hills and beyond and the growth of programs and services that meet the needs of the community.”
Given SHJP’s two staff members (Goodman and David Rullo) and limited possessions, those involved do not anticipate a lengthy and complicated relocation.
“We have already begun some transition planning and the physical office transition is anticipated to take place at the end of the calendar year,” said Schreiber.
Of greater interest is the funding structure, said Goodman, whose office no longer will be located in a suite on Washington Road but in the JCC’s brick-and-mortar building on Kane Boulevard.
When SHJP was initially launched in 2014, a surplus of monies was provided to last the startup through June 2019.
“How we have managed our budget these past three-and-a-half years, there’s enough funding to sustain us through at least June of 2020,” said Goodman.
What the move really provides is a level of comfort regarding next steps and allows the organization to “engage those we truly haven’t had a chance to,” added the director, whose supervisors from the Federation will shortly be replaced by those from the JCC.
Although SHJP has grown from being a conversational hope regarding communal aid to an integrated partner serving residents from 15 communities, including Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park, Dormont, South Fayette, Castle Shannon, Baldwin, Canonsburg and Bridgeville, much remains to be determined regarding SHJP’s finances following the expiration of its original funds.
By occupying a place beneath the JCC’s umbrella, new opportunities for supporting the initiative, such as through smaller directed gifts, may exist, said Goodman.
“We are not sure of the timing of that, but we anticipate that will be possible down the road,” said Cathy Samuels, JCC’s senior director of development and communications. “We are very optimistic about the ability to sustain the program after the initial funding is exhausted. But like all programs and initiatives, decisions will be made based on the impact [of] members served and the ability to generate resources.”
“This is all new. We are at the beginning of a transition mode, and nothing is exactly in place right now regarding funding beyond the next few years,” echoed Goodman.
The news of note is that this move removes “some of the mystery of what was going to happen after [the first] five years,” added Goodman. “It allows us to continue our mission and grow it even further, because while we have done a phenomenal job, there are still a number of people who don’t know what South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh is and what we’re about, and there are a lot of folks we haven’t reached out to yet.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz