Repair the World Partners with JVC

In its first year, Repair the World fellows turned this once trash-strewn West Baltimore lot into an urban garden and gathering place. (David Stuck)
In its first year, Repair the World fellows turned this once trash-strewn West Baltimore lot into an urban garden and gathering place. (David Stuck)

Repair the World, an organization that launched in several major cities in the fall of 2013 with the mission of engaging young Jewish adults in volunteerism, has refocused its Baltimore operations and will now operate under the auspices of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore as part of Jewish Volunteer Connection.

Jewish Volunteer Connection will employ two full-time staffers that will work primarily out of Repair the World’s Highlandtown workshop. Officials expect to have these employees in place by the spring.

While the arrangement is the first of its kind for Repair the World and a departure from its model of 10-month fellowships of immersive service and intentional living, officials at the organization say it was a necessary change that will make the organization more effective in Baltimore.

“We needed to understand what was special about Baltimore that required a different kind of approach,” said its CEO, David Eisner. “The advice we got from a very large number of folks we were talking to was we needed to be less of an independent organization and more aligned and operating under the auspices of a solid and  effective organization.”

While adjustments were made from the first year to second year across Repair the World cities, Baltimore underperformed compared with other cities in both years.

Eisner said officials spoke with 50 to 60 leaders in Baltimore’s Jewish and social justice communities, and The Associated kept coming up. Since The Associated and JVC had already been partners and advisers for Repair the World in Baltimore under its fellowship model in the organization’s first two years, it seemed like a good fit, Eisner said.

Repair the World now has fellows in Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City and Pittsburgh, whose mission to engage Jewish millennials in  volunteerism and make it an essential part of their lives and Jewish identities. While each city partners with its local federation on recruiting and programming, the organization is still fundamentally independent in other cities.

The closeness of the Baltimore community and the reach of The  Associated make Baltimore a unique city that led to a unique arrangement, Eisner said.

“I think it’s a really unique organization in terms of its uniform leadership across the Baltimore Jewish community, in terms of the sort of universal buy-in that all levels of the Jewish community have in working with The Associated and JVC, and I think in terms of the breadth of their lay leadership, it is breathtaking,” he said.

We needed to understand what was special about Baltimore that required a different kind of approach. — David Eisner, CEO, Repair the World

Ashley Pressman, JVC’s executive director, said the partnership is a good fit because the missions of the two organizations are closely aligned, and there is a lot of synergy in the work they both do.

“They are absolutely the expert  in the country in engaging Jewish millennials,” Pressman said. “What JVC brings to the partnership is the relationships with organizations in Maryland.”

As the fellows did, Eisner said the two full-time staffers will similarly build relationships with nonprofits, find ways those organizations can utilize volunteers to have greater capacity and make greater impact and reach out to and enlist young adults in the Jewish community to help those in marginalized communities improve their lives.

Baltimore’s first Repair the World cohort included nine fellows, most of whom were recent college graduates. They lived together and worked with Baltimore organizations such as Civic Works, CHAI (Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc.), the Incentive Mentoring Project, the mayor’s success mentoring program and Banner Neighborhoods.

In year two, Repair the World  adjusted in its cities as the organization saw fit. It adopted its two main focus areas: food justice and education  justice. How much time fellows spent on particular projects was adjusted.

Eisner said recruitment and training was modified so fellows truly understood that a big part of their jobs would be recruiting inside the Jewish community and to ensure they were excited and comfortable with that. Repair the World officials also saw a need to better set expectations and better explain their mission to nonprofit partners, so adjustments were made in that area.

In its first year, the organization engaged 4,000 participants, which grew to 12,000 in year two, and Eisner said Repair the World is on track to have engaged 15,000 Jewish young adults in year three.

“That’s really because we are learning fast and are very willing to make the changes that we need to make in order to succeed as well as we can,” he said.

Pressman is also committed to that mindset and said JVC will adapt and evolve as the two employees get on the ground.

“We are all working towards the same movement,” she said, “and that movement is about engaging Jews in volunteerism as a way of informing Jewish identity and also as a way of impacting the world.”

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