Owings Mills resident Shauna Leavey is the new program director for the Jewish Federation of Howard County. Originally from a suburb of South Bend, Indiana, Leavey has been active in the Jewish community for most of her life.
After attending a religious high school and university in her home state, Leavey arrived in Baltimore in 2001 to attend graduate school at Baltimore Hebrew University. Her postgrad work included four years as the assistant principal at Baltimore Hebrew’s religious school, and two years as its principal, then another six years at Temple Emanuel as the principal of its religious school. Just before starting her job with Jewish Federation of Howard County, Leavey worked as an environmental educator at the Pearlstone Center.
Howard County is home to approximately 25,000 Jews, and Leavey says she’s still getting to know the community. Surprisingly enough, she feels the large Howard County Jewish community is not all that different from the small Indiana community in which she grew up. At the center of both communities is a strong desire to connect, which Leavey says makes her job pretty easy.
What does your job as a program manager for the Jewish Federation of Howard County entail?
This is a two-part position. About 50 percent of my responsibilities are at the PJ Library in Howard County, and the other half is managing the federation’s outreach program and educational events. I’ll be planning things like ladies’ and guys’ nights out. I handle anything that relates to the education and engagement of the community, like the Purim Palooza we just had, larger events like the PJ picnic, which attracted around 200 people, and assisting in meeting deadlines and anything else that comes up, really.
What do you find unique about Howard County’s Jewish population?
I’m still learning a lot about the Howard County Jewish population. The thing I find most appealing about the people I’ve been meeting is a desire to connect. It seems that across the board, the Jewish community is relatively spread out geographically, and there isn’t a convening central location. There isn’t a JCC. Yet there is still this desire to come together with community without the existing opportunities. The desire to do that makes my job relatively easy. All I have to do is find the things that appeal to them and speak to their passions and then hook them up.
What did you do before starting at Howard County Federation?
I have a background in formal and informal Jewish education. I went to grad school here at Baltimore Hebrew University when it was a standing building in Park Heights. I’ve worked in a few different congregations before moving to the Pearlstone Center to do an environmental education program. And then from Pearlstone I came to the federation.
Can you tell us about your home state?
I’m from Indiana. I went to school in Bloomington at Indiana University, and grew up in a suburb outside South Bend. It’s similar to Howard County although smaller. It has a convening federation as well as one reform congregation, one conservative congregation and a small but hearty orthodox congregation. I think they might still have a Yeshiva there. But my family belonged to the reform congregation. I loved religious school, my rabbi was really cool. I attended BBYO and then became a Jewish studies major once I got to college.
Does your job have more short-term goals or long-term goals?
A little bit of both. I think the most important goal which is both long- and short-term, is to really get to know not just the community, but the people in the community. Being an outsider has not been a hindrance because people have been so welcoming and have been so excited to tell me not just about their community, but how they want to see it change. The fact that my job includes having coffee with so many awesome people is amazing. I sit and I listen and I chat, and then I get to go back to the office and figure out how to make things happen.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love hiking and I love being outside. It makes me very happy. I’m a quilter. That’s kind of nerdy, but I am a quilter. I spend a lot of time with my family. We garden, we hike, we cook, we eat. We just relax and have fun together.