‘So What Does This Mean?’: JFS’ CEO Named to the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies’ Board of Directorsby Brie Stimson September 26, 2018
Jewish Family Service CEO Michael Hopkins spends a lot of his day asking questions: ‘So what now?’ ‘So what does that mean?’ ‘What are we going to do about it?’ ‘So how does that make you feel?’
“I was just talking to a colleague about asking the question ‘so what?’ like when somebody says something – ‘So, what does that mean?’ I think I’ve learned enough to ask good questions,” Michael tells me. He has been CEO of JFS since 2012, adding to his more than 35 years of working with Jewish communities across the county.
And now, he’s taking on a new challenge. Michael was named to the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies’ board of directors. The board, conceived in May 2017, is the result of the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies and the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services joining forces. The board represents hundreds of Jewish agencies across the country.
“There was this realization that the face of Jewish agencies are changing,” Michael explains. “Many of the members [like JFS] are almost like legacy agencies within Jewish life and then there are a lot of other smaller startups that are struggling to connect, affiliate, that could maybe learn from legacy agencies, and so the branding and the name reflects this understanding that it’s not just around vocational service agencies and it’s not just around Jewish family services.”
The network’s first conference was held in Chicago last spring, and Michael has been asked to chair their next conference that takes place in Atlanta next March.
“San Diego has under Jill’s [Borg Spitzer] tenure and for a really long time been a leader in our field,” Michael says of JFS. “We’re bigger than we probably should be for the size of our community; we’re impactful in a number of different areas.”
JFS is celebrating their centennial this year, and the agency still maintains its original focus and values. They are still dedicated to immigration and refugees, homelessness, food insecurity and helping people find jobs. They have also adapted with the times and offer services not talked about in 1918, like domestic violence and addiction support.
Michael says since it’s relatively new, the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies’ is still finding its brand. “So that it really provides added value to the members, we’re tasked at providing meaningful services,” he said.
“Anytime you get bigger and you get more diverse, it becomes harder to actually figure out what the customer wants, and so we’re tasked with trying to figure out what services as an umbrella organization – to a group of diverse organizations around the country – we can provide,” he says. “And the field is everything from agencies that have budgets of $100,000 to agencies that have budgets of probably greater than $15 million.”
It can be a challenge, he adds, to find the common ground between a one-year-old agency and one that’s more than 100 years old, but he says that even legacy agencies can learn from startups.
“I like to think that I’m leading a learning organization, that we have a culture of learning – and learning at all different levels,” he says. “On a personal level, I hate kind of reinventing the wheel, and so if someone else around the country has figured out a better way to address homelessness or a more efficient and effective way to distribute meals or provide transportation to seniors, that if we can learn from somebody else doing like work, then we’re better for that.”
Michael believes being willing to learn as an organization is as important as being clever. “Five years ago, one of most essential components of the strategic planning process that we were involved in was this concept of learning journeys where we literally went out and visited 20 different organizations that had nothing to do with JFS, but they were just best in their class around different issues,” he explains. “I’m continually working to have it just be part of our culture … This is an extension of not only being of service to others, but when you’re in service to others, you’re in service to yourself.”