JVS Says goodbye to longtime CEO

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median American worker stays at the same job for about five years. 

Ever the overachiever, Vivian Seigel has notched nearly 40.

As the longtime CEO of Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Los Angeles approaches retirement this summer — her last official day will be July 1 — she expressed confidence in her decision and the direction the nonprofit is headed.

“I’m not 65 — I just turned 61 — but everybody always makes the assumption you will work until retirement. But to me, what is more significant are my years as the CEO, my years with the agency, and also my philosophy that, as much as this has been my life … there is also a time in the life and health of the agency [when] it’s good to have new vision,” Seigel said. 

For Seigel, that time is now.

“When I made the announcement [in October], I think I did catch everyone off guard. But the time felt right. I’m proud of what I have been able to accomplish and where the agency is now. But I think there is so much growth ahead of us,” she added, ensconced in her new office in The Federation building on Wilshire Boulevard. (Earlier this year, she gave her more spacious quarters to new CEO Alan Levey, formerly vice president of philanthropy for City of Hope, so he could settle into his role.) 

When Seigel joined JVS in 1977, fresh out of graduate school with a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation, the agency was only a glimmer of what it is now. Back then, there were just two departments: one for job placement, another for resettlement of refugees. Seigel was one of two women on a staff of about 15 that served fewer than 1,000 clients annually out of a single office. Today, JVS has a staff of 245, a budget of $17 million and serves about 30,000 people a year through more than 30 sites in Los Angeles County. There have been other changes, too: Its client base isn’t solely Jewish anymore.

Seigel, a Beverly Hills resident who has two grown sons with her husband, Jeff, a marine biologist, started her career at JVS as a job counselor. That began a succession of roles with the agency: She ran the immigrant resettlement program, the main office on Wilshire Boulevard, and a teen program before becoming chief operating officer. In 1996, she became CEO.

“It gave me an appreciation of a lot of what our line staff deal with, even though it’s much more complicated now,” she said. “It was a sense of the clients. And I think that is what energized me when I took over as CEO.”

Seigel said she is especially passionate about serving clients with disabilities and particularly proud of the Dashew Assessment Center, which opened in 1992 when she was COO.

“It’s really a state-of-the-art facility,” she said. “If you are a client who sustained a traumatic brain injury, [or] you have a physical disability, you want to be able to see if you can go back to work, and going back to work might mean special accommodations. … It could be you have a visual impairment and you need a very large screen.” 

Seigel also pointed to the 2004 acquisition of Career Planning Center, a nonprofit with a similar mission to JVS. “They had city funding that we at that point didn’t have … That doubled our size overnight. We went from a $5 million agency to a $10 million agency.”

Two years later, JVS embarked on its first major partnership with a large for-profit. Working with Maximus, which offers welfare-to-work services for clients receiving public assistance, JVS received the largest county grant in its history. 

“That increased us again by $5 million,” Seigel said. “It really upped our game.

“They always say nonprofits are no different than running a for-profit. You’re running a business but you’re not producing widgets; you’re working with people. I think it was a wonderful education for all of us. And we still are partners with them today.” 

Knowing that it’s near impossible to sustain an agency of JVS’ size solely on private donations and government funding, Seigel helped develop mission-driven entrepreneurial ventures, such as Community Care at Home. The program trained people, many of whom had been doctors in their native Iran or Soviet Union who were not in a position to pursue the onerous process of getting licensed in the United States, to be in-home nurse assistants. It ran for more than 10 years but was shuttered recently because of increasing costs of running the business.

But it’s when sharing the personal stories of individuals who have been helped by JVS that Seigel really lights up. She recalled a staff member of a political figure who has had a successful 20-year career after she referred him to a career counselor, and the son of one of her first clients who was helped by the JVS scholarship program. (Last year, JVS gave out $644,000 in college scholarship money to 199 local Jewish students.)

She thinks JVS can help even more people in the future.

“I believe JVS has unlimited growth potential because the agency’s core mission is so closely aligned with the economic health of the region and, to that end, I’d like to see an expansion of services throughout Southern California,” she said.

Along with a new CEO, this year sees a new board president for the 85-year-old agency: Harris Smith.

“Vivian is JVS,” said Smith, 60, an accountant. “There’s no other way to say it. She just kind of walks and talks the brand. She has the commitment and energy. Whether it’s the donor community or the governmental community, everyone knows Vivian.”

Seigel’s legacy at the agency won’t end July 1; there’s an endowed scholarship fund in her name, and both her sons and her daughter-in-law are active donors. On Sept. 24, Seigel will be honored at the JVS annual gala. But other than that, she has no big plans for post-retirement life.

“If I consult, I want it to be a short, project-based thing. Otherwise it defeats the purpose of what I want to do. I’d like to give [more] of my time for free … spend time with my family, travel a little bit,” she said.

Her successor, Levey, 61, said she leaves the agency in great shape.

“Vivian has done an incredible job and certainly left a legacy at JVS,” he said. “I think everybody here will always look to Vivian as the person who helped build and transform the agency.”

Levey said he understands that lofty expectations await him. 

“I guess it would be like the person who had to walk behind Michael Jordan or Sandy Koufax. The bar is high and I kind of like that,” he said. “I’m glad she set the standards she set and she has been the face. It makes it that much better of an environment.”

JVS gets back to business

Before Shirley Tang discovered Jewish Vocational Service Los Angeles (JVS), she was taking on odd jobs to support herself. She’d travel to different cities to secure permits for solar panel companies and work with construction firms from time to time. 

Then, last fall, Tang saw a flier for JVS’ free training programs and decided to enroll in a class called ApartmentWorks. For two months, she joined 11 other trainees in learning the ins and outs of apartment maintenance — heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, plumbing, electric, basic carpentry, appliance maintenance and more. 

When the class ended in November, she earned a Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technicians (CAMT), attended a job fair held by JVS and was offered a full-time position at Equity Residential, a national real-estate investment trust. 

“I was interested in learning about this trade and wanted to get a career,” Tang said. “And I did. I am so happy about it.”

On May 7, Tang was one of the five 2015 Inspiration Award honorees at JVS’ 18th annual Strictly Business L.A., held at the Beverly Hilton. The annual gathering was a networking event and luncheon that raised nearly $400,000 for JVS programs, which provide training, support and career advice to Angelenos in need of jobs. About 450 people attended, and local KNBC-TV weatherman and comedian Fritz Coleman hosted the gathering.

Business honorees included Michael Nourmand, president of Nourmand & Associates Realtors, who received the inaugural Young Leader Award. His company and CPEhr, a human resources outsourcing firm, were recognized for their business leadership and dedication to philanthropy.

Alexander Grynevich, a military veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, also was honored by JVS. He had worked in the residential industry before and signed up for ApartmentWorks to get back into the field. 

“The class prepared me sufficiently enough to keep on going,” he said. “JVS refreshed my knowledge and filled in the holes [in my education].”

Grynevich, like Tang, now works at Equity. He was hired three weeks after the job fair and said of his new job, “They treat me well.”

Jonathan Quach, the instructor who taught ApartmentWorks, said the class was valuable because it offered employers qualified workers in an industry that needs them. 

“Not only do we lack the technicians in this field, but also the training,” he said. “This program not only provides the training and the knowledge, but also provides companies with different CAMTs in our area.” 

Founded in 1931, JVS helps people of all ages, backgrounds and faiths find their first jobs or aids them in getting them back on their feet. Today, the organization has 18 training and counseling centers throughout Southern California. 

There are two similar programs to ApartmentWorks in Los Angeles — BankWork$ and HealthWorks — that train individuals to become bank tellers and certified nurse assistants, respectively. According to JVS materials, it costs about $4,000 to train and recruit one of these students. Last year, 327 students enrolled in the classes, and 186 of them found jobs afterward. On average, they made $33,157 annually. 

Marguerite Womack, JVS director of workforce development, said there was a big demand for JVS services following the recent recession. “People in my Marina Del Rey office were once making $90,000 a year, and they were now looking for work. The recession got everybody.” 

Nowadays, things are getting better, according to Womack. She said there’s more of a demand for jobs in health care and that the construction industry is bouncing back. Still, she finds herself helping many young people who are having trouble finding their first jobs because of the competition with older people who just want to get back into the workforce.

Womack remains hopeful that in today’s climate she can continue to assist jobseekers and give them the skills they need to secure promising positions. 

“I like to see people’s lives changed, and it’s not always overnight,” she said. “I like to help people have that leg up and give them the confidence to move on. We try to make people better job candidates.” 

Thanks to JVS, Tang has been able to settle down and focus on her new job managing 308 Equity units in North Hollywood.

“It’s more stable,” Tang said. “It’s given me more leisure time, and I can now plan ahead for my future. I am grateful that I was given this opportunity. I got a job, and I work for a company that cherishes me and gives me an opportunity to learn.”

JVS scholarships encourage college students to give back

Max Goldstein was 15 years old when he hopped on a plane to Caracas, Venezuela, to spend his sophomore year of high school as an exchange student. He had never left the country before, nor had he been away from home for an extended period of time. 

While he was growing up, Goldstein’s family went bankrupt and lost their house. He looked forward to escaping the financial instability at home and having new experiences by going abroad. His host mother in Venezuela was a doctor, which inspired him to pursue a medical degree at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. 

Now 29, Goldstein told his story to an audience of more than 200 people at the Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVS) Scholarship Awards ceremony on July 17 at Sinai Temple in Westwood. 

The JVS scholarship program, founded in 1972, provides financial aid to Jewish college and university students who have lived in Los Angeles County for at least three years. Students must demonstrate a strong financial need to qualify for the program. Each year, the awards ceremony celebrates current students and donors.  

Goldstein, a second-year recipient, was one of 10 students who received a $10,000 scholarship for the upcoming academic year — the first time that individual awards have exceeded $5,000. During the past academic year, he received approximately $4,000. 

“It’s so important because if you look at any records anywhere, you’ll see what the student loan debt is these days,” JVS scholarship program manager Patricia Sills said. 

According to The Institute for College Access and Success Project on Student Debt, the average student in the U.S. graduates with approximately $26,000 in debt. The total student loan amount is more than $1 trillion.

The JVS program has been awarding aid every year since its inception. For the upcoming academic year, 2014-15, 169 recipients received awards (96 of which were renewals) ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, totaling $582,000. A record number of 435 students applied for aid, as compared to 394 in 2013. 

“It’s a really amazing way for people to give back to students who are in a time of need,” Goldstein said. “When you’re going to school with loans, it’s kind of a little boost from the organization. … It makes you feel really committed to giving back.” 

To date, the program has awarded more than $6.5 million through 4,000 scholarships. The money comes from donors, including individuals, family foundations and Jewish organizations, and from fundraising events throughout the year.

“The longitudinality of the scholarship makes me feel a part of a community, and I think that’s very unique to JVS,” Goldstein said.

Fellow award recipient and event alumni speaker Julia Greenberg shares Goldstein’s enthusiasm for JVS. She spoke of her family’s struggles in the United States after they emigrated from Russia when she was 9. 

Julia Greenberg  Photos by Karina Pires

Greenberg received JVS scholarships throughout her four years as an undergraduate at Stanford University. She recently completed an MBA in marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and will soon begin a job utilizing her degree at Toyota. 

During her speech, Greenberg, like Goldstein, both lauded and thanked JVS. 

“It’s amazing that there are people out there [who] really believe that education is a great equalizer that gives people, who come from backgrounds where they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to go to school, the chance to pursue [their] goals and to become educated … [and] as a result of that, be able to give back to the organization and continue to invest in the future of our community,” Greenberg said. “It’s very empowering and really beautiful.” 

Greenberg has received approximately $20,000 from JVS over the course of her education, the majority of which was provided through the Simms/Mann Family Scholarship Fund.

Donors in attendance included Susan and Fred Kunik, Maxine and Gene Froelich, and Joyce and Larry Powell. The donors are enthusiastic about the work of the organization and about the students they support. 

“There are a lot of charities, and they’re all good, but this really goes to the core of people’s lives,” said Fred Kunik, a donor and JVS board and scholarship committee member who became involved four years ago through a friend. “And the fact is that everybody needs a job, and that’s the mission of JVS. … What’s better,” he said, than “to help someone get a job [through] an education?”

Larry Dubey is a consultant in courage

Larry Dubey had every right to give up.

The active and outdoorsy Mar Vista resident suffered a catastrophic snowboarding accident at Mammoth Mountain four years ago. In an instant, he broke his neck and crushed his spinal cord, becoming paralyzed from the shoulders down. 

Since becoming a quadriplegic and requiring constant care, he lost his family’s savings to medical expenses and his job as a project manager/superintendent at a construction company. 

Then, roughly two years after Dubey’s accident, his 23-year-old son, Mitchell, was murdered during a home-invasion robbery in Connecticut. 

Despite enduring these hardships, Dubey, 61, is pursuing plans to become a consultant and mentor in the construction field — and inspiring others along the way.

He was one of three Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) clients honored with the agency’s Inspiration Award during a May 8 luncheon at the Beverly Hilton. The other award winners at the 16th annual “Strictly Business L.A.” event were Laurence Trebaol, a U.S. Navy veteran, and Danielle Vaughn, who left the entertainment industry to provide hospice care for her uncle.  

Donors Roz and Jack Zukerman received the Champion Award, and the Boeing Co. was given the Corporate Leadership Award.

Katherine Moore, JVS vice president of communications, said Dubey showed “unimaginable courage in facing obstacles that would crush most people. His strength of character, his wry sense of humor, and his genuine warmth and charisma inspire everyone who comes to know him.”

She said that his story personifies the organization’s mission: “To empower people with the resources and support they need so they can overcome adversity, lift themselves up, get back to work and move forward in achieving their goals.”

Dubey said he craves to get back to work, despite his condition.

“A big part of it is wanting to feel like I’m providing for my family in some way,” he said. “Fundamentally, it’s the most important thing any of us do.” 

So Dubey sought JVS services through the California Department of Rehabilitation. He teamed with Jose DeLaCruz, a JVS vocational evaluator/counselor.

DeLaCruz says Dubey was initially “confused”: How can a quadriplegic who requires continuous care be employed? In search of a solution, DeLaCruz taught Dubey how to use his nursing aids and an iPad to his benefit, and the two worked together on a plan for Dubey to become a consultant on Americans With Disabilities Act issues in the construction industry.

Dubey considers construction a service industry that enables him to help and mentor others, something that resonated with him. 

“I’d like to help people, whether they’re people in wheelchairs, or just young people getting started in construction,” he said. “The big key is to find something to do that helps service.”

Dubey currently is training for his consulting business and is enrolled in UCLA Extension’s program for construction management. 

His family and friends, including his daughter Lauren Dubey, said the way he has persevered has affected them powerfully.

“If your old man with no functional use of arms or legs can get up and live each day, so should I,” she said. 

She said that he has a witty humor about him, too. She recalled, in particular, his response when she wanted to help him settle back home months after his accident when he “graduated” from Craig Hospital in Denver, where he rehabilitated. It would have required that she pass up leading a group of high school students through Thailand. 

“He insisted he would break his neck again if I didn’t go,” Lauren Dubey said. 

Larry Dubey’s wife, Randi, said that he’s inherently “perseverant” and not a spectator by nature, but that his mettle was tested immediately following the accident. 

“[For him] to stay in that frame of mind, it’s been a struggle,” she said. “He didn’t begin, ‘OK, I’m going to wake up and [fight to recover].’ ” 

She credited family, friends, the Jewish community and JVS with helping her husband remain strong. 

Rabbi Steven Reuben Carr of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades said Larry Dubey’s positivity and charm has uplifted everyone who has supported him. 

“When this accident happened, it was a privilege for the congregation to rally behind him and show what being a part of a community is about,” Carr said. “Larry has been a guiding light for everyone. His strength gives them strength. His courage gives them courage.” 

Still, much more remains to be done. Larry Dubey isn’t yet earning an income, and his caregivers, out-of-pocket prescriptions and physical therapy are monstrous expenses that have wiped out his life savings and retirement account. 

He carries on, though, always happy to cite a favorite credo. One he repeated throughout the JVS luncheon was, “It’s not what happens to you. It’s how you handle what happens to you.” 

The other, popular with his late son, is simple: “Be positive.”

Jewish Vocational Service objects to employee union vote

Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a nonprofit that provides career counseling, workshops and job-related resources, is disputing the results of an Oct. 10 election that would unionize 91 of its employees who work with GAIN (Greater Avenues for Independence), a Los Angeles County-funded program that provides case management and employment services to recipients of the state welfare-to-work program CalWORKs. 

JVS management is pushing against unionization after the bargaining unit of 91 employees, citing a desire for collective bargaining to ensure equal pay and treatment, voted to support unionizing by a narrow margin of 34-33 during an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). 

A second bargaining unit of 34 JVS employees, which works within its federally funded WorkSource Centers, Los Angeles County-funded General Relief Opportunities for Work (GROW) program as well as several programs out of its Antelope Valley office, voted 15-9 against unionizing in a separate election on Oct. 10 overseen by NLRB. 

The NLRB announced the results of both elections on Oct. 12.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 36 oversees AFSCME Local 800, the labor union that represented both groups of employees in their respective campaigns. If unionized, AFSCME Local 800 would continue to represent the 91 JVS employees, who work out of Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services offices in Burbank, Chatsworth, Palmdale and Santa Clarita.

JVS filed an objection with the NLRB on Oct. 19, calling for the federal agency to investigate the unionization election held by JVS staffers who work with GAIN.

“The outcome was determined by a single vote and voter participation was very low,” JVS CEO Vivian Seigel said in a prepared statement. “JVS’ management was made aware of allegations of possible improprieties by the union and is exercising its right to have the NLRB investigate the conduct of the election, ensuring that all employees had an opportunity to exercise their free expression of choice.”

Leslie Simon, organizing director for AFSCME District Council 36, says the objection is a tactic to delay the unionization of the 91 employees.

Simon added that the objections against the union are “pretty vague.”

Last July, both bargaining units of JVS employees filed petitions, per NLRB regulations, showing that at least one-third of each group wanted to unionize, which led to the election announcements.

AFSCME attributed the close vote and low voter turnout of the GAIN group to an aggressive and expensive negative campaign directed by anti-union consultants hired by JVS management.

“We are outraged,” Simon said.

AFSCME representatives said JVS employees refused to go on the record with the Journal, citing fear of retaliation. 

In the JVS statement, Seigel maintains that her agency, which has employed AFSCME-represented workers for approximately 50 years, supports labor unions.

“We deeply respect the role of unions in our community, but we also have an obligation to act in the best interests of our employees and organization,” Seigel said. 

Retraining programs get unemployment bump

Courtney Myrick, 27, trained to be a massage therapist several years ago but found that customer service jobs paid the bills. After 10 years in the industry, however, jobs became scarce and less stable. 

After a layoff in June, Myrick enrolled in BankWorks, a free program administered by Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVS), where she learned about banking regulations, balancing cash flow and assessing customer needs.

“I love it; I love the company benefits,” said Myrick, who now works as a bank teller for Wells Fargo.

Myrick finished the six-week program on Nov. 16 and was hired a week later through a job fair coordinated by JVS. 

“[You] have to give a lot of commitment,” Myrick said about BankWorks. “It’s like a job, just you’re not getting paid for it.”

Hundreds like her have been flooding certificate programs at JVS, Santa Monica College (SMC) and other local institutions. Enrolling in two- to six-month courses that teach a variety of specific skills, these adults — who range in age from their late 20s to their early 60s — all share the same motivation: desperation. 

“We’ve been seeing the return of adults to education for three years now,” said Vicki Rothman, a faculty member at SMC who also heads its career services department. “A good 80 percent of them were already employed, had B.A.’s and had lost jobs. At first, people tried to get back into their own market, but the job market went so down in Los Angeles they figured if they came to community college and did a short program and retraining, it would get them back to the market.”

SMC has a number of short-term programs to get people back in the workforce, including recycling and resource management, photovoltaic solar paneling and digital media, Rothman said. Ironically, people thought the medical industry was hiring and trained to become nurses, but California now has a glut, “and many nurses are not being hired and are leaving the state,” she said.

Rothman said she also advises both women and men to look into opening a family day-care center, which can provide a nice income. She has guided many recently unemployed to SMC’s early childhood education program, which prepares them to be preschool teachers as well as open their own day-care centers.

Representatives for the certificate programs say job prospects for recent graduates have been good so far. Solar paneling and digital media grads are getting hired, and Rothman noted a slight upswing in employment in Los Angeles County.

“Originally, when the employment market was good, we’d get adults who just wanted to finish their bachelor’s to get ahead, at night. But the minute people started losing jobs, people were coming in droves. It made a huge impact on managers, office workers, lawyers; people are willing to make such changes now,” she said.

At JVS, the focus has shifted from helping people with career happiness and advancement to people looking for a job, said Melissa Jarvis-Prieto, a JVS spokeswoman. She said they have especially seen an influx of people in their 30s to 50s.

At JVS, the strategy is to train people for similar industries. They have directed people who had worked in the mortgage industry to their BankWorks program, and people who were laid off from construction jobs into a green construction program, Jarvis-Prieto said. 

In response to the increasing need, JVS partnered with local community colleges to offer programs in cyber-security and green construction, and changed their BankWorks program from an eight-week course to six weeks. They have also focused attention on their MatureAbility program, which provides counseling and skills-building to job seekers 50 years old and older, Jarvis-Prieto said. 

Lisa Meadows, BankWorks’ program manager, said that the older age of the students makes the classes more successful. “That maturity is being shared in the classroom,” she said.

Many students avoid retraining until all options run out — unemployment, job contacts and savings, Meadows said. Recently, a student with a master’s degree from USC and a successful career in the entertainment industry enrolled in the program after being unemployed for a year and half. Now he works as a personal banker at Chase. 

By and large, laid-off adults have not been choosing to go back to graduate schools, especially not Jewish ones, according to educators interviewed for this article. Graduate school faculty and administrators at American Jewish University (AJU) and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) noted applicants’ concerns about covering tuition costs and taking on more debt, leading many to defer graduate school for another time.

Nina Lieberman, dean of AJU’s nonprofit management program, an MBA program for working executives, said that many applicants are cautious about getting a degree because of their concerns about job insecurity. “They don’t want to take on more debt” in this economy, she said. 

At HUC-JIR, the aggregate age of enrolling graduate students has actually been younger in recent years — as opposed to the older students in certificate programs — due to fears from undergraduates that rabbinic and cantorial jobs wouldn’t be available, according to Deborah Abelson, director of admissions and recruitment. Abelson said those jobs do exist, but students were so wary that they often opted to stay in graduate school to avoid job searching in a dismal environment. 

Abelson said that interest in rabbinic and cantorial study is less affected by the recession, because it has always been more of a personal calling than an economic decision. 

“With rabbinical school, when they’re drawn to it, they’re drawn to it,” she said.

Grads of JVS program banking on a brighter future

Sandra Vasquez has a longer job history than many 28-year-olds. When she was 10, she began working with her father, a contractor who didn’t speak much English. She served as his translator and all-around assistant. Vasquez is the first member of her family to graduate from high school, and she went on to earn an associate’s degree and complete two quarters at University of California, Santa Cruz.

A health issue forced her to drop out, but it didn’t stop her from working. She got a job at a Santa Cruz Home Depot, where she drew on her past experience in order to satisfy the store’s most demanding customers: professional contractors.

She’s not wearing the orange apron anymore, though. On Feb. 9, Vasquez and her 17 classmates from the Jewish Vocational Services’ (JVS) BankWorks program were dressed in conservative suits, muted-colored shirts and sensible dress shoes. It was graduation day, and the students looked like the future bank tellers that they’re all hoping to be.

“I wanted to be here to acknowledge a program that works, a program that changes lives,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a speech to the 20th BankWorks class, their families and representatives from city and state agencies that support the program.

The bulk of the funding for the tuition-free BankWorks program comes from seven banks, and recruiting teams were also in attendance. Following the ceremony, they would be interviewing all — and hiring most — of the BankWorks graduates.

In the past five years, more than 450 people have made it through BankWorks’ rigorous eight-week training course, designed to prepare participants for careers in the retail banking industry. Among the graduates, 80 percent are hired by one of the banks that help sponsor the program. And six months after graduation, 60 percent of those hired are still employed.

In other words, for the graduates, the banks and the city of Los Angeles, it’s a win-win-win. “If you can marry a need of the business community and a need of the community at large, you have the formula for a really successful program,” said Les Biller, who together with his wife, Sheri, helped JVS establish the program. Federal stimulus dollars also contributed to the program, although those are running out.

In his speech, Villaraigosa noted some hard facts about the employment situation in Los Angeles, including the current unemployment rate (12.5 percent), the peak unemployment rate of a year and a half ago (14 percent) and the year that the unemployment rate is projected to return to normal (2016).

Most of the BankWorks graduates were represented by those statistics at some point. The group includes a former cashier at McDonald’s, a former photo specialist from Walgreens and a slew of former salespeople. Most had been quite successful at their jobs before being laid off when the economy turned sour.

Vasquez regularly met and exceeded sales goals at the Home Depot in Santa Cruz, but she moved back to Los Angeles last year to take care of her mother, who was recovering from surgery. She took a temporary job with the U.S. Census, and when that ended in October 2010, she filed for first-time unemployment benefits. That month, about 450,000 other people across California did the same.

“It was weird,” Vasquez said of receiving those benefits. “I know it’s the money saved up for us, but it still feels awkward.” So when she heard about BankWorks, she didn’t hesitate. “I kept on calling,” Vasquez said. “I probably made four phone calls in a week.”

Thousands make that first call to BankWorks. Between 300 and 500 interview over the phone. About 30 started in Vasquez’s class, and 18 completed the program. It costs about $4,000 per student to run, a sum that includes not just training but other support as well. For instance, if a committed student needs a bridge loan to pay that month’s rent, JVS will help them out.

“Every one of you has a story,” Villaraigosa told the graduates. “It’s the story of climbing up a mountain and sometimes falling back down, but the good ones keep climbing up.”

Even after the pictures were taken and the certificates had been handed out, there was more climbing to do. The banker hopefuls walked down the hall for a speed-dating-style interview session. Recruiting teams from Bank of America (BofA), Citibank, City National Bank, Pacific Western Bank, US Bank, Union Bank and Wells Fargo were in attendance.

“You get an associate with a different work ethic and a different motivation level,” BofA Business Support Executive Karla Lee said of the graduates. BofA would love to hire 50 BankWorks graduates every year, Lee said. The jobs they’re interviewing for offer salaries between $11 and $12 an hour — higher than the minimum-wage jobs the graduates held previously.

Bank teller positions also offer opportunity for professional growth. Lee, who focuses on strategy, risk management and other initiatives for BofA, also presented a $50,000 check from BofA to JVS. She started her career with BofA in Seattle 10 years ago — as a teller.

Scene & Heard: Global Festival Honors Schulweis, JVS Recognizes Four

Mad About Miley

Dr. Michael Kamiel, a Culver City endocrinologist, is making every pre-teen girl in town jealous: the good doctor ran into Miley Cyrus during her “Miles to Go” book signing on Mar. 7 at the Grove and snagged this lucky snapshot with the tween superstar.

Sabans Donate $5 Million to Theater

The Beverly Hills Performing Arts Center is getting a brand new name. Cheryl and Haim Saban have promised a $5 million donation that will benefit the theater’s restoration. To honor their gift, a snazzy new marquis that reads “The Saban Theatre” is scheduled to be unveiled in the fall.

“Cheryl and I are thrilled to support the restoration and continued life of such an important Los Angeles landmark,” said Haim Saban, chairman and CEO of Saban Capital Group.

The historic landmark belongs to the League of Historic American Theatres and the Los Angeles Conservancy. Located on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, it is home to an array of community programs — Broadway shows, films, stand-up comedy and Hollywood’s favorite house of worship, Temple of the Arts.

Cheryl Saban added: “Our gift underscores our belief in the richness and beauty the arts bring to all of our lives, as well as the important role the Temple of the Arts plays in the Jewish community.”

Global Festival Honors Rabbi Schulweis,Founder of Jewish World Watch

“You are the great chain of Jewish being,” Rabbi Harold Schulweis told the teeming crowd of 600 guests — 125 of whom were children — gathered for Jewish World Watch’s (JWW) Global Soul festival at the Skirball Cultural Center on Feb. 26.

Africa met Los Angeles during JWW’s fifth anniversary celebration, which featured cultural displays from countries that have suffered through genocide, including raucous drumming, storytelling, music and a decadent African buffet.

The sold-out event celebrated the spirit of global activism and the moral vision inspired by its founder, Schulweis — who, when not saving the world, can be found at Valley Beth Shalom. He delivered a stirring address that was both a call to action and a celebration of Jewish altruism.

“There are no Jews in Chad, no Jews in Darfur. They are people of different skin color, of different liturgy, of different language. But with Jewish ancient eyes we see no race or creed or religion,” he said.

“Your children will not have to ask, ‘Where were you in all this human catastrophe?’ For your children hear and know we Jews are in this world, here and now. We are morally mandated, ‘Be relevant to the world. Bind its wounds. Make whole its shattered lives.’”

Schulweis also recognized the Armenian and Cambodian communities of Los Angeles, many of whom were in attendance and have partnered with JWW to crusade against genocides around the world.

More than 60 Los Angeles synagogues of every denomination support JWW, and Schulweis paid homage to them all. He also thanked the JWW staff, especially co-founder and president, Janice Kaminer-Reznik, whom he praised as the “hidden compass” and “conscience” of Jewish World Watch.

To the crowd, he concluded: “You link our spiritual past and our aspiration of the future with the powerful clasp of the present. You bring the Bible to life.”

Broidy Joins Wiesenthal Center Trustees

Elliott Broidy, chairman of Markstone Capital Partners, a private equity fund, was recently appointed to the Simon Wiesenthal Center Board of Trustees. Broidy brings impressive financial acumen and international affairs experience to the board.

At Markstone Capital Partners, he oversees the fund’s investments, which are heavily distributed to companies in Israel. He also runs his own private equity firm, Broidy Capital Management. His much respected financial prowess (he serves on the board of advisers for the USC Marshall School’s Center for Investment Studies) is equaled only by his civic service. Broidy was appointed by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to serve on the department’s advisory council, Future Terrorism Task Force and New Technology Task Force.

For a little color, he includes culture among his many civic and philanthropic interests. President George W. Bush appointed him to the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Jewish Vocational Services Recognizes Four

Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) honored Adrienne and Elliott Horwitch and Linda and Jim Hausberg for their continued support during its annual Art of Giving Gala in January.

When she joined JVS 25 years ago, Adrienne Horwitch became the second woman to serve on its board of directors and later the organization’s first female president, serving from 1998-2000. Her husband, a real estate broker, serves on the homeowners associations at both their Beverly Hills and Malibu Colony residences.

Jim Hausberg is managing director of Presidio Wealth Management and is involved in a number of charities, including, The Friends of Disabled Veterans of Israel. Linda Hausberg, a business entrepreneur, was famously lauded by The New York Times for her frozen food business, Linda’s Gourmet Latkes, called the best frozen latkes around.


Super Sunday Aims at Aiding Programs

In 1999, Alexander Khananashvili left behind his prosperous life as a Moscow doctor to immigrate to the United States with his wife and two daughters, hoping for a better future. He came with little money, no job prospects and no knowledge of English.

With the help of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Khananashvili and his family quickly found their footing. Within two days of their arrival, the former doctor and his wife met with a social worker from Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a Federation beneficiary agency.

The social worker spoke to them at length about life in America, giving them information on everything from opening a bank account to enrolling in a medical plan. Within a few weeks, Khananashvili had several job leads, courtesy of JVS, while his wife enrolled, for free, in an English-language class offered by the agency.

Subsequently, The Federation awarded scholarships worth tens of thousands of dollars to enroll the Khananashvili daughters in Jewish day schools and Jewish camps, which, Khananashvili said, has helped cement their Jewish identities.

“The Federation improved our lives,” said Khananashvili, now a 48-year-old social worker and Beverly Hills resident. “They gave us our start here and protected us under their shield. We’re very grateful.”

During the past 30 years, The Federation has helped 30,000 Jews from around the world settle in the greater Los Angeles area. On Feb. 26, The Federation will hold its annual Super Sunday megafundraiser to support its 22 beneficiary agencies, including the Refugee and Resettlement Program that helped the Khananashvilis, as well as myriad other programs.

For the fundraiser, an estimated 1,900 volunteers will gather from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to staff phones at three sites: The Federation’s headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills and the Torrance Marriott. They will be making calls to potential donors, with the goal of raising $4.7 million.

Craig Prizant, The Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development, said he hopes this year’s Super Sunday fundraising will break its record by $200,000 over 2005. He said he feels optimistic, because many local Jews have profited from the sizzling real estate market, enabling them to give more generously. In addition, The Federation has identified and plans to contact the growing population of Jews in the West Valley, including West Hills, and in such South Bay cities as Manhattan Beach and Torrance.

Still, “the needs are always going to outweigh what we can raise,” Prizant said.

That’s especially true for Jewish Family Service (JFS) and Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), two Federation beneficiary agencies that have been particularly hard hit by cuts in government funding.

The JFS Gramercy Place Shelter, for instance, has lost about $180,000 in federal and state money over the past two years, a huge financial hit, according to Paul Castro, the agency’s executive director. The 57-bed homeless shelter, which, Castro said, “seems to be chronically at risk,” has managed to stay afloat only because JFS has filled the gap with private donations. However, because of the government shortfall, JFS has not been able to expand the existing programs or introduce needed new ones at a time when demand for services has skyrocketed, Castro said.

In this age of budget deficits, JFS and other local nonprofits increasingly rely on funds generated by Super Sunday and other private-sector initiatives to maintain present service levels, Castro said.

“When you look at what’s happening with government funding, you’re seeing a bigger expectation that private donors will take a greater responsibility for meeting the safety net,” he said. “And Super Sunday is an important example of how this community is working toward that reality.”

JVS also has seen demand for its services outstrip resources to provide them. In 2002, for instance, the agency’s staff included eight full-time job developers tracking down leads for clients. Today, JFS has one full-time and one part-time employment developer.

Reduced funding has forced JVS to move away from individual sessions for resume writing and interviewing. Instead, said Vivian B. Seigel, JVS chief executive, much of the training is now done in a group setting.

In light of those realities, she said, Super Sunday’s importance to JVS should not be underestimated.

“We look at the money generated by Super Sunday as extremely important,” Seigel said. “It has enabled us to reach out to families we know are living below the poverty line and to offer important services, ranging from help in finding jobs that pay a living wage to college tuition scholarships.”

Among those calling prospective donors will be the Khananashvilis, who, in addition to making pitches, will make their own donation, just as they have every year since coming to America.

“We like being able to give back,” Khananashvili said. “In the beginning, it was only $10, but $10 for us was maybe more than $1,000 now. It was a lot of money.”

To volunteer for or make a donation to Super Sunday, call (866) 968-7333.


Vocational Service Gains Career Center

To Vivian Seigel, Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) is a living, breathing entity that must grow with the times or risk irrelevance. That’s why the organization she heads announced in April that it had acquired a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that, like JVS, provides an array of counseling services to a nonsectarian population.

In the process, JVS will expand its client base to 24,000 from 14,000. It will also add five new locations in the area, including Marina del Rey and Antelope Valley, bringing its total to 16 centers.

Career Planning Center (CPC), which has an annual budget of more than $4 million, will be managed by JVS and led by JVS chief executive Seigel but remain autonomous. The alliance follows the announced retirement of CPC founder and CEO Eleanor Hoskins, who wanted to ensure CPC’s survival by joining forces with JVS.

"This enhances the availability of career and employment services to members of the community, including businesses," said Seigel, a 49-year-old mother of two. "Our services complement and enhance one another."

No Federation money will go toward supporting CPC, which is funded by government agencies, Seigel said. Negotiations between the two groups lasted for about six months, she added.

Change has been a constant at JVS since Seigel assumed the top spot in 1996. At the time, the agency had 45 staff people, a budget of $1 million and helped about 5,000 people annually with career planning, job searches and other services. Post-acquisition, JVS and CPC will have a combined staff of 125 and a $9.5 million budget.

Seigel, who first joined JVS in 1977 as a rehabilitation therapist, said she has worked hard to make sure her agency met the needs of all the community. With nearly 60 percent of its clients now coming from the ranks of middle management and above, the agency has rolled out several initiatives in recent years administering to the casualties of the new economy.

To help promising nascent businesses succeed, JVS recently partnered with the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) to create the Microenterprise Loan Program. Employees of JVS will help entrepreneurs draft business plans and give them marketing and technical counseling to increase their chances of landing a JFLA loan of up to $20,000. The goal: Help small companies become bigger companies that employ lots of people and fuel the local economy, Finkel said.

Mark Meltzer, JFLA executive director, said Seigel’s professionalism, intelligence and good relationship with her board and the community at large have helped her "come up through the ranks and build the agency beautifully."

Working closely with Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, Seigel has received a $100,000 funding commitment this year from the city. Weiss said he is a big fan of Seigel and the agency she runs.

"JVS is important because it’s not a handout," the councilman said. "It’s a hand up."

Weiss should know. One of his "most successful" staff members got her start in elective politics through a JVS program.

Fortuna Benudiz Ippoliti, a Weiss field deputy at his Sherman Oaks office, said she decided in 2000 to re-enter the workforce after an absence of more than a decade. Failing to land a good job on her own, the 52-year-old mother of two turned to JVS, which helped her polish her resume and gave her career counseling.

Ippoliti’s enthusiasm and intellect led JVS to select her for the WoMentoring program, which, given her interest in politics, paired her with a City Council candidate. Ippoliti worked on the campaign for two months, doing everything from fundraising to planning events.

Although her candidate lost, Ippoliti said the political bug had bitten her. More important, she rediscovered her self-confidence thanks to her four months with JVS.

"I didn’t know where to turn," Ippoliti said. "I was totally lost. I needed somebody to tell me to put this foot in front of that foot. That’s what JVS did. They gave me direction. They held my hand. They gave me a hug. I don’t know what I would have done without them."

After JVS, Ippoliti went back to school at CSUN after dropping out of college nearly 30 years earlier. Just before her second semester, she got a call from Weiss’ then-chief of staff, whom Ippoliti had met years earlier. The chief of staff, impressed by Ippoliti’s recent political experience, hired her as a field director, a job Ippoliti held while attending classes and raising two children.

In May, 2003, Ippoliti, a Sephardic Jew, graduated with high honors and delivered the commencement speech. She spoke about never giving up on one’s dreams.

The Circuit

The Road to Wellness

The nexus of cancer and the entertainment industry couldn’t have been more resonant than on April 16. It was the day that Hollywood was saddened by the death of “Spenser for Hire” star Robert Urich, who succumbed to a rare sarcoma at age 55. It was also the day that celebrities shined to bring awareness to the Wellness Centers, an international nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of those battling cancer. The organization was founded in Santa Monica two decades ago by Dr. Harold Benjamin, whose wife Harriet had survived cancer.

At the Regent Beverly Wilshire, Diane Keaton and cancer survivor and comedienne Julia Sweeney hosted a Wellness Centers gala that honored actor Rob Lowe, psychotherapist Lynn Silbert, Farmers Insurance Group and the TV movie production of “It’s Always Something: The Gilda Radner Story.”

Benjamin joined forces last year with Herb Glaser, Tel Aviv-L.A. Partnership co-chair, to open a Wellness Center in Tel Aviv.

Benjamin’s Wellness Centers exemplify what he called his “patient-active concept, when the patient is considered part of the recovery, along with his/her physician, rather than a passive victim of illness.”

“I’m honored to be associated with films being made with people who have struggled from this terrible disease,” said Jami Gertz, who portrayed comedienne Radner in the TV biopic that aired April 29 on ABC. Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989. Gertz said she admires Radner’s “sense of humor and her sense of faith in humanity.”

Gertz noted that her own father-in-law passed away from stomach cancer and her mother-in-law has now contracted multiple myeloma. Gertz also lost her grandmother to cancer.

John Wayne Cancer Institute’s Dr. Myles Cabot, director of breast cancer research; his department colleague, Dr. Nora Hansen, and Steven O’Day, director of oncology research, were also in attendance.

No stranger to cancer’s catastrophic consequences are Mel Keefer and his wife, Joyce Eisenberg Keefer. Keefer lost his first wife to breast cancer, while Eisenberg Keefer — who has been a very generous supporter of the John Wayne Cancer Institute and has endowed the institute’s Joyce Eisenberg Keefer Breast Center — lost her first husband, Ben Eisenberg, to cancer.

“When a person lives with someone who has cancer, it’s like they have it,” said Eisenberg Keefer of experiencing her late husband’s decade-long struggle.

Brian Cohen, who came with wife Randi Cohen, is president of the of financial services division of Farmers Insurance and is on the Wellness Centers board.

“I lost my father to bone marrow cancer,” said the 42-year-old former attorney, who has been devoted to Wellness Centers for a decade. “It’s not six degrees of separation; it’s one degree.”

Lowe’s “The West Wing” co-star Kim Webster (Ginger) came to cheer her colleague on. Lowe himself lost a grandmother and great-grandmother to cancer, and his father also battled the disease.

Skin cancer has been found in Webster’s family.

“As a fair-skinned redhead, I’m always wondering whether it could happen to me,” Webster said. “Everybody has been touched by cancer,” said Steve Guttenberg, the iconic comic actor. “It’s like saying, who hasn’t touched the ocean? Not many people.”

Road Show Drives Work Force

Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) recently won a $5,000 grant from the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance’s Incentive Regional Allocation (IRA). JVS, a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization and beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, helps people find work and redirect their careers.

Funds from the Valley IRA will be used to launch the Career Road Show program later this spring in synagogues throughout the San Fernando and Conejo valleys.

Career Road Show will teach Jewish synagogue and community members how to find employment, transfer their existing knowledge to new careers and update their skills and expertise to meet the needs of a changing marketplace. For more information on JVS, visit www.jvsla.org.

Spring Hits Newport Beach

Hannareta and Gordon Fishman will be honored at Irvine’s University Synagogue Spring Gala Dinner Dance on April 13 at The Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach at 5:30 p.m. Gordon Fishman, a practicing ophthalmologist for 33 years, has served on various community boards, including the Jewish Federation of Orange County and Bureau of Jewish Education. Hannareta Fishman originated an Orange County Chanukah Concert that for the past seven years has involved 500 children at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. For more information, call Barbara Sloate at (714) 751-3555 or University Synagogue’s office at (949) 553-3535.

Teaching Skills

Fifteen years ago, when he was 16, Sandra Lanza’s son Mark, received his first job through Jewish Vocational Service. It was a summer position he landed with the help of a program then called “Project Gelt.” Now his mother is following Mark’s example and seeking help at JVS as well. “My son told me many years ago, ‘Mom, if you want to find a job, you have to learn computer skills.'” For Lanza, who is past 50, the age factor is a worry, not only because we live in a youth-oriented culture, but because the march of technology so quickly makes years of experience obsolete.

“Many people our age aren’t familiar with the computer,” she said. “I have friends who are afraid of it, and that’s a big drawback when you’re going for a job today.” Lanza herself, who has a background as a telemarketing manager and was laid off after six months from a job as a technical recruiter, has fairly good computer skills, but needed even more to pursue a career in human resources. At JVS, with aid from a new grant being offered to mature workers through Hillside Memorial Park, she took JVS Skills Plus classes in PowerPoint and Excel to help her be more competitive in her new field. PowerPoint taught her to make her own slide presentation, deciding on logos, font size, clip art and even sound effects. “It’s almost as much fun as sex,” she said.