Schmoozing with Avery Drongowski
The DJN chats with the Metro Detroit Jewish community-builder who will soon be heading down South for a new adventure.
By Allison Jacobs
Featured photo by Leisa Thompson
1. Where are you originally from, and what brought you to Michigan?
I grew up in Royal Oak and I moved to Nashville right before high school. I went to Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas which is just outside of Little Rock. After college I was in Chicago for one year with a Jewish service corps and came back to Michigan for grad school in 2015. Then I started at The Well after grad school.
2. How did you land your position at The Well?
Through the social work program through U of M I had been interning at Jewish Family Services and seeing clients for therapy, which I really loved. In December before I graduated, Dan Horwitz posted a job at The Well. I thought, that sounds interesting, but I am not graduating for another semester. Dan hired me as a part-time intern for my last semester and then I came on full time when I graduated. It turned out to be a great fit, and here I am, two and a half years later! It is a great place to work.
3. Tell us about your main role at The Well.
This past year I’ve really been focusing on managing and cultivating our shared interest groups. We have about 40 groups meeting on a monthly basis. They range from six to 12 people meeting once a month for Shabbat dinner or Rosh Chodesh (Women’s New Moon Groups), Mahjong, whiskey and more. The underlying goal of those groups is to build lasting community. While we call them shared interest groups, they’re really like micro-communities. They’re about putting people together who we think will get along and will have lasting relationships.
When I started there were 15 groups and over the last two and a half years we’ve doubled that. We’ve also had new staff over the last year and I’ve been helping get them in the groove. My favorite thing is to work on the Rosh Chodesh groups — it’s cool to create spaces just for women to explore spirituality and wellness. I think it’s something people are craving and don’t always know how to go about it.
4. How is The Well changing the way young adults engage with Judaism?
I think we try to make Judaism relevant and meaningful for people, so I think people are engaging with Judaism in ways that aren’t traditional. We have over 50 guys participating monthly in a whiskey group, and while they aren’t always explicitly doing Jewish-related things, we are cultivating a community. Now they have a group of guys they can go to Shabbat services with and they come to our events together. We’re shifting people’s ideas of what Jewish can look like and trying to introduce people to Jewish practices and rituals that are relevant to them in this day and age. There are over 250 people participating in our shared interest groups on a monthly basis.
5. What do you think your biggest accomplishment has been at The Well?
Definitely the Rosh Chodesh groups. When I first started, we had a couple that were doing well and they’re all still going. Since then we’ve created a network for these groups so there’s an awareness that other groups are meeting on a monthly basis Metro Detroit. We’ve had a couple events that have brought the groups together — I’m really excited about that and hopefully moving forward we’ll use that as a model for all of our groups. Yes, we have groups meeting on a monthly basis, but I’m looking at ways that we can bring them all together or help them see they’re part of a larger community of Jewish people.
6. You’ll soon be leaving The Well (and Metro Detroit). What’s next for you?
Jake (my fiancé ) and I are moving to Louisville, Kentucky, where there’s a small, yet mighty Jewish community. Because I spent high school in Tennessee, I know what a small town Jewish community looks like and I’m excited to be part of that again. And I’m exploring my options. There aren’t organizations like The Well there because it’s not a large enough community to sustain lots of organizations, but I’m definitely open to doing some engagement work, whether it’s with young adults or the larger community.
I definitely want to work in the Jewish community — there was a period where I wanted to focus on clinical social work, but I think that’s going to be later down the line for me. It will be interesting because I’m not from the community, so I want to be careful about doing engagement work in a place where I’m the new person. I’ve learned so much from The Well and hope to bring a Rosh Chodesh group or two to Louisville.
7. What are you going to miss the most about Metro Detroit?
Even though I spent years away, this is my “OG home.” I’m going to miss Fuse45 (Sam Friedman will appreciate my shoutout, hopefully). In the last year and a half I got really into working out there! I’m also going to miss my friends and knowing where everything is.
Avery Drongowski, 26, lives in Madison Heights with her fiancé and two fluffy cats. She holds an MSW from the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work and Jewish Communal Leadership Program and looks forward to a long career in the Jewish community. Avery enjoys spending time outside, eating a delicious homemade meal and listening to music. Avery and her fiancé are relocating to Louisville, Kentucky soon, where they hope to become experts in horses, bourbon and a Southern drawl.
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