After 40 years of helping Jewish Vocational Services flourish in both programs and finances, CEO Leah Rosenbaum is set to retire in 2020.
Featured photo courtesy of John Hardwick
Leah Rosenbaum had recently finished a degree in social work and psychology at Michigan State University and was considering a job in disability insurance when, in 1979, she saw a job listing at Jewish Vocational Services in the Detroit Jewish News for a case-worker position that fit her to a T.
“I remember reading the ad and thinking that job is me,” recalled Rosenbaum of her first position at the agency. She remembers thinking she would stay in the position and at the agency for a year or so, until she got bored or until the Michigan winters drove her to search for a job in warmer climates.
Now, as she sets her sights on retirement in 2020 from the agency she helped build over the last 40 years, she still hopes to spend the winter somewhere warm. But she never for one minute got bored.
“At JVS, we have strived to continually change with the times while always focusing on the dignity of the people served by JVS to strive to get the outcome they want for their own lives,” Rosenbaum said. “That is why I have stayed.”
Rosenbaum’s decades of service helped the agency grow from a budget of $8 million to $26 million and a staff of more than 400. In the last four decades, JVS launched an adult day program for those with dementia, developed services and community integration for people with disabilities, and expanded career services for job seekers at every level and stage in their career, including laid-off executives, people experiencing homelessness and women returning to work after a break.
As government funding shrank, Rosenbaum spearheaded efforts to create new revenue streams by creating eCycle Opportunities, an electronics recycling program that provides jobs for people with barriers to employment, raises revenue for agency services and keeps tons of electronic parts out of landfills.
Under Rosenbaum’s leadership, JVS 20 years ago established the Dorothy and Peter Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Program, designed to ease the way for families who wanted to keep their loved ones living with dementia in their own homes at a time when nursing homes were the only option. That program, operating in partnership with Jewish Senior Life, has blossomed into two locations in Southfield and West Bloomfield.
“For the last 20 years, this program has allowed people to maintain their dignity as best they can in dealing with a disease that is anything but dignifying,” Rosenbaum said.
Great Recession Years
Over the years, Rosenbaum said she could forecast the economy by who and how many came into the JVS offices seeking employment advice. It was during the Great Recession of 2008-2009, when Rosenbaum and her staff saw the numbers of those seeking employment assistance, that she realized that to help them, JVS would have to remodel and diversify to provide training in addition to one-on-one counseling.
“Hundreds of people were coming in every week,” Rosenbaum said. “They represented a segment of the workforce who had never before experienced unemployment. They were coming in feeling like they had been delivered the message that something was wrong with them. We had to create resources for them that not only offered them new job-hunting skills, but also gave them a social support group and showed them they were not alone.”
In a continually and rapidly changing job market, Rosenbaum said it’s natural for many people to feel like they want to climb into bed and pull the covers over their heads. During the last 10 years, Rosenbaum said that JVS staff do their best to keep up with the latest job searching skills and to teach their clients that job searching is very different in today’s job market, when it may be computer algorithms and not people sifting through applicant resumes.
Rosenbaum said with the opening of the JVS operations at Durfee Innovation Society in Detroit in the former Durfee Intermediate School, where her mother and grandmother attended school, her personal connection to improving the lives of Detroiters in the neighborhoods where they reside has come full circle.
Rosenbaum will continue to consult for the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities in helping JVS enhance the quality of its rehabilitation and employment services for people with disabilities and specialized services for older adults.
Personally, she looks forward to reconnecting with family and friends, picking up her long-neglected guitar and escaping the cold Michigan winter for warmer climes.
“JVS will always hold a special place in my heart,” Rosenbaum said. “I leave feeling confident that our talented and caring staff and lay leaders will continue to passionately serve our mission.”