As part of a multi-year effort to address two fundamental challenges facing the Jewish community – affordability and access, our Federation is rolling out the first of its major initiatives for 2012: Reducing Barriers and Increasing Access to Jewish Life.
Tackling affordability, early childhood education and special needs
The goal is to make at least $1 million available for need-based scholarships, and provide an additional $500,000 in grants to support early childhood education, and programs to help ensure a welcoming and inclusive community for children with special needs and their families. We’re one of a number of non-profits in the region working to keep families rooted to the Bay Area by maintaining access to quality education and enrichment activities, despite the high cost of living.
“We’re working to ensure that participating in Jewish life does not become a luxury out of reach for Bay Area families,” said Laura Mason, the Federation Senior Program Officer who is heading up this initiative. “People are struggling to make ends meet, and our partner organizations report that requests for financial aid continue to increase.”
“For us, the connection to Jewish Life is a priority, but we know we are actually one of many organizations responding to an increase in the need for financial assistance,” said Jennifer Gorovitz, the Federation’s CEO. “As is the case with so many pressing issues, it will take a coalition of organizations to help bridge these resource gaps.”
There are three program areas within the initiative to Reduce Barriers and Increase Access to Jewish Life:
- The Affordability Project. With membership costs, tuition and program fees that reach into the many thousands each year, more than half of all households in the Bay Area don’t earn enough money to participate fully in organized Jewish community. The Federation, with the support of individual and foundation donors, including the Jim Joseph Foundation, will be awarding 6,000 scholarships to families in need, helping to ensure a community that is vibrant and accessible to all.
- Early Childhood Education (ECE). The Early Childhood Education program area will focus on increasing access to a high quality Jewish preschool for all families. The program will work to advance the field on major issues such as teacher compensation and rigorous standards of excellence, while encouraging meaningful lifelong connections to Judaism for children and families.
- Special Needs. There are approximately 9,000 Jewish children under the age of 18 in the Bay Area who have special needs. Many of these children and their families cannot participate in Jewish life, including attending day school, camp, synagogue and other family programs because these environments have lacked the supports they need to serve these children. The Federation’s initiative is helping to build the capacity of the entire community to be inclusive by funding professional training for Jewish educators, expert consultation in early childhood education, high quality camping experiences, and effective social enrichment activities for children, teens, families, and friends.
To advance this work, we will convene a series of events in the coming year
Stakeholders and donors will share information on strategies and preliminary goals and gather input from the community. The first of these events is May 24, 2012 and will focus on early childhood education, inviting education professionals from the entire region to a half-day event, culminating in a panel discussion with experts in early childhood development, educator compensation and philanthropy.
Household budgets stretched in Bay Area
Recent reports tracking economic indicators for the Bay Area and Silicon Valley indicate that while certain sectors of the economy have seen improvement, median household incomes continue to shrink.[i] At the same time, the Bay Area is the third most expensive place to live in the US[ii], with housing expenses absorbing the lion’s share of earnings. This continual decline in household income has meant that many of the 130,000 Jewish households cannot participate in Jewish life the way they want to. Reducing financial barriers is critical to maintaining a robust Jewish community in the Bay Area.
“So much of being Jewish is our experiences,” said Jennifer Gorovitz. “Our work is intended to make schools, summer camps, and synagogues more accessible…these are the places where great connections are made, and it is those memories that help sustain us…one Jewish generation to the next.”
 Silicon Valley Index 2012
 Bay Area Council Economic Institute, “Bay Area Economic Profile March 2012