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2009 Top-Rated Nonprofit

AVODAH The Jewish Service Corps Inc

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Community Service Clubs, Judaism, Philanthropy, Public & Societal Benefit, Religion, Voluntarism Promotion

Mission: AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps engages young people in direct work on the causes and effects of poverty in the United States. Participants in our service Corps program live out and deepen their commitments to social change and Jewish life through a year of full-time work at anti-poverty organizations in Chicago, New Orleans, New York, and Washington, DC.  This work partners Corps members with service providers and residents in low income communities and equips our Corps members and alumni to emerge as lifelong agents for social change, whose work for justice is rooted in and nourished by Jewish values. After participants complete this intensive one-year program, AVODAH’s partnership with American Jewish World Service provides a broad platform for long-term leadership in social change and Jewish life.

Geographic areas served: United States

Programs: See schedule ofounded in new york city in 1998, avodah is training the next generation of jewish leaders through its service corps, which places post-college young adults (ages 2126) in a year of full-time service at antipoverty organizations. During the year, corps members live together in an intentional community and participate in weekly educational programs designed to give them the skills and networks to prepare them to become leaders. Over the past sixteen years, avodah corps members across four cities (new york, chicago, new orleans and washington, dc) have directly improved the lives of 533,000 individuals and added an estimated $13 million in staffing capacity to 150 local antipoverty organizations. "avodah" in hebrew means "work" or "service", and the combined meaning can be understood as one's "life's work". Avodah's service corps program has led participants to a sustained commitment to working for justice. A recent survey, facilitated by outside evaluators, about how the program influenced the trajectory of participants' lives found that: - 75% (3 out of 4) say that their current job involves antipoverty or social justice work; - 92% say avodah set them on their current professional path; and - 85% say that avodah helped them find their place in the jewish community. There are close to 700 alumni living across the united states and other parts of the world and they have assumed leadership roles across the jewish and nonprofit communities - as professionals, lay leaders, clergy, organizers, activists and volunteers. Avodah alumni receive advanced leadership training, networking opportunities, and support to foster their development as jewish leaders. In addition to the program's transformative impact on participants, avodah also makes significant contributions to its nonprofit placement agencies and to the low-income communities it serves. As local antipoverty organizations face increased demand for services coupled with declining funding, avodah's high-quality, cost-effective staffing model offers agencies a real solution. In their placements, avodah corps members build the capacity of avodah's partner agencies to directly address many of the issues faced by poor communities, including limited access to healthcare, housing, food security, and educational opportunities. Avodah's partner agencies consistently report being able to offer their clients new and expanded services as a direct result of having an avodah corps member on staff. In 2012, approaching its 15th year and 500th service corps member, avodah began to ask how it could extend its impact and scale even further, and longer term, create organizational and financial efficiencies. To this end, in january 2014 avodah launched the avodah fellowship (the "fellowship"), a new leadership development program for professionals early in their careers working to address the causes and effects of poverty. Based on a curriculum grounded in jewish thought and learning, the fellowship provides mentorship, training, community, and networking opportunities to support emerging jewish professionals engaged in the antipoverty field, while integrating participants into avodah's extensive alumni network of social justice leaders throughout the country. To date, the fellowship has engaged over 35 individuals in 2 cohorts and has exceeded avodah's expectations. Evaluations completed by the first cohort include: - 100% reported a deepened understanding of how social activism and jewish life intersect. - 95% reported that the fellowship strengthened their connection to jewish values. - 95% reported that the fellowship strengthened their connection to jewish identity. - 82% reported better understanding the causes and effects of poverty. - 94% reported sustained/strengthened commitment to do work on economic and social justice.

Community Stories

77 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been involved with Avodah for over 10 years and have been profoundly impacted by the organization. As a participant in Avodah's service corps, I had the opportunity to learn all about Judaism and social justice. I did the service corps in Chicago and my year in Avodah gave me authentic insight in the social justice community and work happening in Chicago. After completing my service corps year in Chicago, I continued to stay involved with the Alumni community and network in Chicago. Through this network, I am regularly invited to engage in learning and actions related to both local and national social justice issues. Additionally, Avodah has given me a Jewish home. The Avodah Alumni network has provided me with a Jewish community who I can spend holidays with and celebrate life milestones with. When I joined Avodah in 2006, I had no idea that the organization and program would so profoundly shape my adult life. I am so grateful for the ways Avodah built me as a Jewish leader of social justice-- and the ways in which Avodah does this for so many others.

Review from Guidestar

1

Board Member

Rating: 5

I had the distinct privilege of being involved with Avodah as a participant in the NYC fellowship, which equipped me with tools and insights to be more impactful and find more meaning in my job in public health. Shortly after the program ended, I took part in a women's leadership coaching program through Avodah with other alumnae, which played a powerful role in helping me chart a career path that feels inspiring and motivating. Today, I'm a proud board member of the organization, and the relationships I've built through my involvement with Avodah form the heart of my Jewish community. The Avodah community helps me see myself as a powerful agent of change, pushes me to think critically about the impact I have and can have in the world, and is a constant source of inspiration and joy.

Review from Guidestar

Volunteer

Rating: 1

Avodah is structured so that only individuals with privileged backgrounds can succeed in their position. It is basically set up as a year for recent college grads to feel good about themselves while they continue to take money from their parents. For those who participate for different reasons and don't have a safety net, they cannot live off the stipend and keep up with the house social scene leading to burn out due to the onerous work, high demands, poor social support, and no financial pay off. Worse it's represented as something it's not. I'm three years out and still look back at the experience as a waste of time and a poor use of my skills.

3

Volunteer

Rating: 1

AVODAH is by far the most ableist and financial inaccessible "volunteer" experience I've ever had. I had to resign from my position early fpr health related reasons, and the organization promptly kicked me out of my house with two weeks until my next lease started, one day notice (against DC tenant law) and nowhere to go. This was against the expressed wishes of my fellow corps members (whose needs, I think, should be the organization's top priority) and while still mandating that I pay rent for the next three months (after working for a year under the minimum wage and while struggling to cover medical expenses). I am both shocked and disappointed that AVODAH-- as an organization that prizes itself being equitable and social justice oriented -- has no clause in its contract acknowledging mental/ physical disabilities as potential barriers to completion of serve. Throughout my departure process, I was made to feel like my situation was in some way my fault, and was made to compensate AVODAH financially for making a decision that my doctor recommended. I find it hard to fathom that I am now in debt to an organization which I was working for in a stipended position, after leaving for a health issue that I already hold much shame in. As one of the few corp members without the buffer of family support to fall back on, I was constantly made to feel like I was asking for special privileges for not being able to manage the 60+ hours of commitment per week that AVODAH expects from it's corp members (with site placements, programming, house meetings, mandatory community activities, etc), while balancing outside responsibilities that none of the other corps members had. No wonder the organization primarily attracts volunteers from certain socio-economic and familial backgrounds! I loved my corps members and respect my program director and her intentions, but feel strongly that the structure of the program is completely inaccessible to folks who don't identify with certain brands of Judaism and/ or have needs that fall outside the "norm". I therefore couldn't in good faith recommend it to anyone strongly committed to grassroots social justice work.

3

Volunteer

Rating: 5

As a AVODAH corps member, I spent a year living in a communal house and working in a local nonprofit. The AVODAH program and staff were very supportive around the communal living stuff and work stuff, did not push me Jewishly as much as I had hoped.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Through AVODAH I had an incredible year working with low-income seniors in New York City. I was part social worker, part pharmacist, and part advocate on behalf of hundreds of Medicare beneficiaries, and my work during AVODAH led me to attend law school. In addition to being the spark that I hope will develop into a rewarding public interest legal career, I made some incredible friends throughout the year - people who have supported me through tough times and celebrated with me in the good times.

1

Former Volunteer

Rating: 5

A truly meaningful, life-changing experience. I became more aware of the world I live in while also learning about myself. I met amazing people and connected to a community that inspires and accomplishes incredible things.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

AVODAH is amazing! It provides young Jews with an opportunity to expand their Jewish sense of identity at time when we are unstable with who we are and where we stand in the world. An instant community of Jews and like minded individuals are basically served to us on a golden platter, as well as real world experience serving people and communities that are important to us.

1

Former Volunteer

Rating: 5

My experience with Avodah has been transformative. It has changed my vision of the world and how Judaism and social justice are important in my own life.

1

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

Housing Unlimited, Inc. (HUI) is fortunate to have an Avodah participant-- Joshua Neirman-- work full-time this year with HUI. Josh has been an outstanding addition to our staff-- he cares deeply about our mission (HUI provides affordable housing to low income adults with psychiatric disabilities), he is very kind and respectful towards the people we serve, and he is a true team player-- happy to chip in with the large and small tasks that must be completed to keep HUI up and running. The Avodah supervisory staff is very organized and communicate regularly and clearly with HUI to ensure everything is going smoothly.

1

Client Served

Rating: 4

I have been receiving AVODAH volunteers to help run our legal clinic for seven years. They have been outstanding workers and friends. The quality of people AVODAH gets each year to donate their time to helping the poor with our and other organizations is incredible. AVODAH not only instills a strong sense of Jewish tradition and values in its members, it provides crucial services to this country's poor.

1

Former Volunteer

Rating: 5

The reason for my ongoing involvement with Avodah is because my participation in this program has helped to amplify multiple songs in my soul and set them into powerful harmony. The song of Jewish community and intentional relationships. The song of social action. The song of taking up the fight against injustice. And the song of doing what’s right, of doing what’s human. I sing these songs loudly now, and with others who know the tune, the words, … the meaning.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

As an AVODAH Corps Member, I had the opportunity to live together with other Jewish young adults, exploring together the connection between Judaism and Social Justice, and working full time at a non-profit. We had very meaningful workshops weekly covering topics from housing, to racism, to mental health. It also gave me the opportunity to explore my Jewish traditions and learn about others'. AVODAH was a positive step to get into the world of non-profit. After my year in AVODAH my organization offered me a full time position and I am still employed there. I still actively engage with AVODAH, interacting with new corps members as well as alumni.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

AVODAH provided exposure, experience, and support in the social service world, all within a Jewish, social justice framework. My positive experience was a major factor in my decision to pursue an MSW/MPH degree.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

AVODAH is a year long service program, similar to Americorps. The experience that I gained in this program strengthened my knowledge of the field I currently work in and strengthened my commitment and passion to social justice. The friends I made while in AVODAH, have been a source of support and encouragement to me.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

AVODAH is an amazing program (!) which provides Jewish individuals an experience to learn about social justice within the context of a Jewish framework. For me it was a year of meeting passionate individuals, who work towards the issues they believe in. AVODAH provides young college graduates with an experience of working with various marginalized populations. It is a year of growth and learning. It was a very important year in my life and in my growth of learning and understanding what I value and what is important for me to work towards.

1

Former Volunteer

Rating: 5

I love AVODAH! It gave me the opportunity to work in a field I would have never explored on my own. I made amazing friends and shared so many meaningful experiences making the Jewish connection to service work, as well as live with peers that shared similar values. YAY AVODAH!

1

Former Volunteer

Rating: 5

AVODAH is a multilayered experience, full of strengths and challenges. Overall, I grew personally and professionally by leaps and bounds and strengthened my commitment to pursuing justice. I continue to feel like I'm part of a movement in this endeavor as the alumni community expands.

2

Former Volunteer

Rating: 5

AVODAH The Jewish Service Corps changed my life. It is a program for recent college graduates who live communally and work at non-profits dedicated to social justice. I spent one year living in Brooklyn with 9 other young Jews of varying backgrounds and levels of observance. My work involved educating Medicare beneficiaries about their health care benefits, supervising a crisis hotline, and even representing clients at court. My roommates' jobs varied from staffing a neighborhood soup kitchen, to helping people with mental illness find housing, to staffing shelters for battered women. AVODAH staff members guided us with bi-weekly meetings in which we studied the ways our Jewish faith intersected with our passion for anti-poverty work. As an alumnus of the program, AVODAH continues to play a large role in my life by providing access to a network of alumni as well as annual retreats where we renew our commitment to Tikun Olam - making the world a better place. AVODAH was one of the single most influential experiences that shaped me into who I am today. Please support this wonderful program that has given so much to so many. Sincerely, Yuval Asner, MD Johns Hopkins Hospital

1

Former Volunteer

Rating: 5

My year in Avodah was an amazing experience that solidified my commitment to working with the underserved, as well as exposed me to many role models doing anti-poverty work and different models for doing so. I had the opportunity to work for the entire year through my placement organization, a legal non-profit, doing welfare advocacy and eviction prevention work in New York City. I did this while living together with 9 other Avodah participants, all with jobs related to antipoverty, and we had opportunities to learn from and share with each other. Finally, Avodah provided us with formal teaching on various topics related to poverty, as well as tying our Jewish identity and texts to our anti-poverty work and providing opportunities for self-reflection.