NEW YORK — JWB Jewish Chaplains Council® (JWB), a signature program of JCC Association of North America, has received a grant of $15,000 from PJ Library’s Alliance partners to expand and deepen outreach and support to Jewish military families.
With the funding, JWB has established the “JWB Empowered Parents Initiative” and hired five parent ambassadors to create and sustain vibrant communities of Jewish military families. To do so, JWB’s parent ambassadors will identify local Jewish military families, build relationships between and among them, engage the families in high-quality Jewish experiences, and empower parents to take the lead in shaping their family’s Jewish life.
“Creating small, home-based family groupings,” says Rabbi Irving Elson, vice president and director of JWB, “is a model that has worked successfully throughout the military. As we develop this pilot initiative, its expansion to more installations in the future is certain.”
According to Rabbi Tracy Kaplowitz, director of operations, JWB, “The beauty of the PJ Library partnership goes beyond the funding.” As a participant in the community of practice of PJ Library grant recipients, Kaplowitz says, “The resources our organizations bring together—JWB, the JCC Movement, and PJ Library—form a pyramid of support for our military parent ambassadors.” Also supporting the parent ambassadors in this pilot for Jewish military families are JWB-endorsed Jewish chaplains and lay leaders, family engagement staff in local Jewish Community Centers (JCCs), and PJ Library coordinators.
The five parent ambassadors hired for this pilot program include:
Sarah Covshoff lives with her young family in the San Diego, California, area. Her husband is an Air Force service member, so she was surprised when the family was posted to San Diego, where the majority of military personnel are in the Navy. Originally from Canada, she has lived in places around the globe, including upstate New York, Nevada, Florida, and the United Kingdom, where she worked as a molecular biologist on a project to increase food production in Southeast Asia. Covshoff enjoys traveling, baking bread and meeting new people. As a JWB-PJ Library parent ambassador, she’s working with the Lawrence Family JCC – Jacobs Family Campus in San Diego, California.
Maria Karp has spent her 14-year career with the Texas Army National Guard as a federal employee, and currently serves full-time as the program manager for the student loan repayment program. Her husband also is a member of the military, and the couple has three daughters and a dog. The family recently moved from Austin to San Antonio, Texas, where Maria is working with the Barshop Jewish Community Center of San Antonio, Texas, in her role as a JWB-PJ Library parent ambassador.
Sarah Margolis and her husband, an active duty soldier, live in Kansas with their children—a few hours from the geographic center of the contiguous United States. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Margolis is a remote claims specialist in the dental field. Working and home-schooling her youngest kids keep her busy and require a community, which is why she looks forward to building Jewish community with and for other families in and around Fort Riley as a JWB-PJ Library parent ambassador. In this role, Margolis will work with staff at the JCC of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas.
Mindy Milner, proud wife of a U.S. Navy service member lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their energetic preschool-aged son. An early childhood educator, she enjoys reading, the outdoors, jigsaw puzzles, and naturally connecting people together. Milner is thrilled to apply this tendency to Jewish military families in Kitsap County, Washington, where, as a JWB-PJ Library parent ambassador, Milner’s working with the Stroum JCC of Greater Seattle on Mercer Island, Washington, to strengthen families’ connections to each other and to Jewish life.
Amy Wilkerson, a social worker with interest in military communities, is married to her childhood sweetheart, who serves in the U.S. Air Force and is stationed in Pima County, Arizona. The couple has traveled the world and now has two toddlers who keep them busy. Devoted to fighting social and racial injustices, Wilkerson is an advocate for the underserved. She looks forward to her role as a JWB-PJ Library parent ambassador, which already has given her opportunities to support and advocate on behalf of Jewish families who serve our nation. Staff at the Tucson JCC in Arizona will support Wilkerson’s efforts to build Jewish community among military families in the area.
One of Wilkerson’s first calls to a PJ Library family was especially welcomed by a father whose service-member wife is deployed with a return date that is continually extended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was pleased to learn that Wilkerson had a similar parenting experience when her husband was deployed. She will include the father and his son in Hanukkah and other get-togethers, even if they are socially distanced or online.
The PJ Library Alliance partners include nearly two dozen foundations and other philanthropic organizations that fund PJ Library initiatives. JWB is grateful to each partner for its support and to the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which has provided a monthly gift of books to military families since the founding of the PJ Library initiative.
About JWB Jewish Chaplains Council®
JWB Jewish Chaplains Council® (JWB) is a nonprofit, U.S. government-accredited agency that serves the religious needs of Jewish military personnel and their families, wherever they serve, as well as patients in VA hospitals. Founded in 1917, on the cusp of World War I, the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB), as it was known at the time, sought to serve young Jewish men entering the military. Today, JWB Jewish Chaplains Council®, a signature program of JCC Association of North America, continues this work by honoring the service of Jewish men and women in the United States armed forces, safeguarding their rights, fulfilling their spiritual needs, and combating loneliness and isolation.