CJP: What made you decide to chair CJP’s Committee on Services for People with Disabilities?
Marni: I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in the Cynthia and Leon Shulman Acharai Leadership Program in 2006-2007 and was trying to figure out where I wanted to focus my energy within the CJP community. I found my passion in the disabilities agenda when I became involved with Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, first as a parent of a Gateways student and then as a board member, and now VP of Strategic Planning. I was serving my first year as a board member of Gateways and becoming familiar with the resources available to individuals with disabilities in the greater Boston community when I was asked to chair the Committee on Services for People with Disabilities, and knew it was the perfect fit for me within CJP.
CJP: What interests you about the disabilities agenda and the new Pathways to Employment program?
Marni: CJP has really become the national thought-leader on providing support to those in the community with disabilities. CJP’s commitment to creating inclusion opportunities for people with disabilities to participate meaningfully in both the Jewish community and in our society at large makes me proud to be so deeply involved with these initiatives.
Pathways to Employment is incredible in that it breaks down the misconceptions and fear that employers have about people with disabilities. When I observed the Transitions to Work program in action at Newbridge on the Charles last spring, I was particularly touched by the co-workers of these individuals, who spoke about the opportunity they had to be mentors at work for the first time in their lives because of the Pathways program. The more that employers realize that people with disabilities are committed and dedicated workers once they are provided with the right training and skills, the better their businesses and our society as a whole will be.
CJP: Why do you volunteer with CJP and in the community?
Marni: My husband Jon and I both grew up in homes where leadership and community involvement were modeled for us by our parents and other close family members. We were taught to appreciate what we had and that because we were so fortunate we had a greater responsibility to give back to our community. CJP introduced us to the remarkable leaders of the Greater Boston Jewish community who have continuously inspired us to actually bring about change and not just talk about it.
CJP: How has your experience as chair of the Committee on Services for People with Disabilities made a difference in your life and a bigger difference in our community?
Marni: My involvement with the disabilities agenda began when my son began participating in Gateways: Access to Jewish Education's Sunday Hebrew school program. At the time, I was not as familiar with the resources in the community, many of which CJP supports. Chairing the Committee on Services for People with Disabilities has introduced me to so many professional and lay leaders in our community who work tirelessly every day to provide opportunities for education, recreation, independent housing, employment and social engagement to people with disabilities. Our monthly meetings are so rewarding and I look forward each month to learning from my committee members.
CJP: What have you learned about CJP during your involvement?
Marni: This is an organization that values and nurtures the collaboration between the lay leaders and the professional staff. It is an organization that is not afraid to think outside the box, to come up with innovative and new strategies to address the tremendous needs in our community here in Boston, as well as in Israel and abroad. CJP would never say “we can’t do that because we don’t have the resources.” Instead, CJP is committed to finding the resources to meet the needs. It is an organization that attracts committed, intelligent and passionate individuals and works hard to nurture new leadership.
CJP: What advice do you have for other CJP volunteers?
Marni: No matter what your age, income or schedule, there is an opportunity to get involved with CJP. When I first got involved, I had four young children and was working almost full-time. But I was still able to get involved in a way that was meaningful to me. My advice would be to figure out what your passion is, and then seek out opportunities within CJP to fuel that passion. There are so many opportunities for involvement and engagement within the organization that it is easy to find your niche. I had an epiphany while visiting Poland and Israel during the Acharai Leadership Program, that if we do not take care of our own community, no one else is going to line up to do it for us. CJP is so much more than a fundraising organization, and I am so grateful to be involved in an organization that supports, empowers and engages everyone within our Jewish community both here and abroad.
About Marni Levitt
Marni Levitt is a long-time CJP volunteer and chair of CJP’s Committee on Services for People with Disabilities. She is the vice president of strategic planning for Gateways: Access to Jewish Education and a graduate of the CJP Cynthia and Leon Shulman Acharai Leadership Program. She lives in Sharon with her husband, Jon, and their four children.