By Ben McCarthy
On August 24, Jewish Family Services (JFS) held a 120th celebration event, and honored its outgoing CEO and Executive Director Don Goldman. The organization now begins a search to find a successor to Goldman after his 16 years tenure is scheduled to end in October.
Under Goldman’s leadership since 2007, JFS weathered a number of challenges, including those arising from the Covid pandemic. The food pantry(with locations at their office in Overland Park and Brookside) grew to serve nearly 2,000 clients per month at the pandemic’s peak. Now, through a mobile program called KesherKC, Kansas Citians will see JFS staff out in the community more regularly bringing everything from fresh produce to other resources, such as job training opportunities, to those in need.
“One of the outgrowths of Covid was learning that we needed to be closer to clients,” Goldman said. “KesherKC is going to help us grow and continue to become more mobile and connect with people throughout the community.”
Among the many accomplishments and milestones during Goldman’s tenureship, he says he is most proud of two specific programs and areas of focus: offering aging services at clients homes to help them remain independent, and volunteer transportations to help them traverse the city. The transportation program, now called JET Express, functioned like Uber or Lyft in 2008 for older residents (six years before the companies launched in the market). Today, JET has established a working partnership with Uber and Lyft to expand services to all clients in need of transportation assistance.
“Those two programs launched a year after I started and were so innovative, “ Goldman said. “No one in the city had anything like them.”
After he received the award bearing her and her husband’s name, Dr. Phyliss Bernstein said it was Goldman who brought out the best in the JFS staff, volunteers, and board of directors to make the organization what it is today.
“The many programs and expanded services he has developed and implemented in his 16 years as Executive Director could not have been imagined 16 years ago,” Bernstein said. “He has taken JFS to such greater heights.”
Goldman and longtime community volunteer Sandi Fried each received prestigious awards to end the evening: Fried, a former Board Chair of JFS from 2013-2015, was honored with the Alfred Benjamin Friend of the Family Award, and Goldman the Bernstein Humanitarian Award (Goldman has already been honored earlier this year by Nonprofit Connect as their 2023 Nonprofit Catalyst recipient). JFS Community Relations Director Ruth Bigus says the Dr. Phyliss and Robert A. Bernstein Humanitarian Award was established on JFS’s 100th anniversary honoring the Bernsteins’ long commitment to the agency.
“The award recognizes those whose lives, like the Bernsteins, exemplify the dedication and support that improves and sustains the quality of life in the Kansas City community,” Bigis said. “Don Goldman has led the organization with clear direction, a collaborative spirit, and a commitment to ‘tikkun olam’ – repairing the world.”
The 120 year anniversary celebration was especially meaningful for the organization given biblical accounts have Moses living to the same age.
Bigus says the Board of Directors hope to announce Goldman’s successor in October, coinciding with his retirement.