By Harry Lichtman
Ashley Pressman is the executive director of Jewish Volunteer Connection, the hands-on volunteer connector for the Baltimore Jewish community.
“The mission of the organization is to engage volunteers to meet vital community needs and live with purpose through meaningful service,” Pressman said.
Pressman, 45, works with the board, manages the budget, supervises staff and helps lead and provide guidance to the organization.
Pressman grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C., where she attended Chapel Hill High School and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history and religious studies.
“It’s a relatively small Jewish community, but very tight knit,” Pressman said. “I’ve been very active for the size of the Jewish community that it was. It’s also a college town, so a lot of my way of viewing the world is through the lens [of] it being a college town.”
One way that college town’s influence in her life comes out is through a book called “The Carolina Way,” written by Dean Smith, the legendary UNC basketball coach. The book is about leadership and team-building, and it has served as an inspiration for Pressman.
“I’ve actually been using it at JVC,” Pressman said. “We do weekly sessions focused on ‘The JVC Way’ using ‘The Carolina Way,’ so it absolutely informs everything about my leadership and who I am.”
In addition to her bachelor’s, she also has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland and a master’s in Jewish communal service from then-Baltimore Hebrew University, which is now the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University. Pressman graduated in 2004 and has been with the JVC ever since.
“I was in one of the last few classes when it was an independent university,” Pressman said. “My degrees prepared me for the Jewish communal work and also for people-centered work and putting people first.”
Pressman is also an active member of Beth Am, a Conservative synagogue located in Reservoir Hill, a neighborhood in Baltimore City where she, her husband Alan and their two sons live. “I’ve periodically served on the board there, and I’m just a very active person there,” Pressman said.
Pressman and her family are also members of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, and their children attend Krieger Schechter Day School, as well as J Camps. “We’re involved in lots of different ways in the community, both personally and professionally,” Pressman said.
Reservoir Hill, the Baltimore City neighborhood where Pressman lives, historically had a large Jewish community, but is now majority African American.
“We have a lot of folks in the neighborhood, since Beth Am is a Conservative synagogue,” said Pressman. “There’s a lot of folks who don’t drive on Shabbat and those who choose to live in the neighborhood for a variety of reasons.”
A lot of Pressman’s identity in Baltimore is bound around her synagogue membership and the choice of the neighborhood that her family lives in.
“We love that it’s an urban synagogue that cares very deeply about issues of justice and equity in the community in Reservoir Hill,” Pressman said, “and also Baltimore in general, part of our values and my values as a Jewish person.”
The Jewish community has also been very supportive of Pressman, as her husband was involved in a serious accident about seven years ago, but has since recovered.
“Everything is fine,” Pressman said. “The way that the community just swooped in, both the neighborhood and the Beth Am community, really swooped in and took care of us as he was recovering was really an incredible example of community and people feeling responsible for each other.”