Collecting an Unpaid Debt

Campus organizations often go overlooked or get taken for granted by students and alumni alike. Hillel at Pierce and Valley Colleges has those problems — and then some. Try serving thousands of students on multiple campuses with a small staff and a smaller budget. And from an office in a strip mall, no less. That’s precisely what Nomi Gordon does as director of the Pierce and Valley Hillel.

“The Hillel at the community colleges nurtures the Jewish students who go on to be effective leaders at their future campuses,” Gordon said. “Many of our students transfer to CSUN or UCLA and continue to build on the foundation we’ve given them. That’s why our presence is so important, especially as more students see the benefits of beginning their [post-high school] education at a two-year college. And in order to be a better presence, we need to be raising more funds.”

To that end, the organization will host its biggest fund-raiser of the year, Comedy Nite ’99, at Pierce College’s Performing Arts Theater, on Saturday, Jan. 30. Director and actor Richard Kline, best known for his role as “Larry” on the ABC sitcom “Three’s Company,” will be honored for his contributions of time and talent to Stephen S. Wise Temple and Milken Community High School. The evening will also feature comedians Wendy Kamenoff and Steve Mittleman, as well as a silent auction and raffle.

Currently, Hillel at Pierce and Valley Colleges is housed in Corbin Village, a strip mall on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills. The corner office is deceptively spacious, with offices for Gordon and a part-time office manager, another for a student intern, a library/conference room, a kosher-style kitchen and a large room that doubles as a meeting hall and sanctuary. In addition to Gordon and the two part-time employees, the organization also employs a rabbinic intern.

Together, the small staff works to serve a combined population of 3,500 Jewish students from the two campuses (plus an additional 500 at Moorpark College) on a shoestring budget of $150,000 a year. In comparison, UCLA Hillel has an operating budget of $540,000 for 5,000 students, according to Eitan Ginsburg, associate executive director for the Los Angeles Hillel Council. Of that total, UCLA Hillel is able to raise about $365,000 on its own, while the Pierce/Valley Hillel ekes out about $16,000 through donations, relying mostly on grants from the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance.

“UCLA Hillel has the advantage of being attached to a prominent university,” Ginsburg said. “It is also the largest and oldest campus organization, with a well-respected leader, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, who has been there for 23 years.

“Students at Los Angeles community colleges have different needs than at a four-year university. Still, we would like to see all of our units grow. There isn’t a single staff at any campus, including UCLA, that is at full capacity right now, and that’s purely a function of budget.”

According to Gordon, raising funds at the community college level is made more challenging by the surrounding universities.

“We work with students for only about two years, and then they move on,” she said. “By and large, their allegiance is to the school where they get their four-year degree. I would love to be able to establish a better connection with our alumni because so many of them grew through their involvement [in Hillel], and now they could have the opportunity to give something back.”

Last year, Hillel at Pierce and Valley Colleges raised almost $9,000 with Comedy Nite. This year, it hopes to surpass that figure, according to Scott Svonkin, chair of development for the organization and a member of the Los Angeles Hillel Council board.

Svonkin said that there is still room for donations to the event’s silent auction and for sponsors.

For more information or to obtain tickets, call (818) 887-5901.