Promoting Volunteerism in the FSU

You might think JDC’s Former Soviet Union (FSU) department would have little in common with Ashalim, our partnership with the Government of Israel to address children and youth at risk.

At first glance, the two departments operate in different regions of the world and address the needs of distinct target populations.

But instead of viewing these differences as challenges to cooperation, JDC welcomes them, constantly seeking new opportunities to collaborate across the 70 countries in which we work. 

That spirit was showcased by last month’s “First International FSU Volunteer Conference,” held in Chisinau, Moldova. Check out a video from the event.

The event brought together more than 150 local community volunteers coordinators and volunteers from 35 communities across the FSU. Along with the critical input and participation of Ashalim professionals, it was a weekend of volunteer-based skills building and professional development, as well as coordinator training to engage, recruit, and mobilize volunteers.

JDC's FSU team has invested efforts in strengthening and expanding volunteer activity and networks over the last several years. There are now more than 1,800 volunteers involved in projects in 35 cities across the region, providing services to all age groups within the Jewish community, helping carry out community-wide events like holiday celebrations, and working to improve the broader society in the places where Jews live. 

Ashalim's Volunteer Area program was identified as a unique professional resource that could assist and support the volunteer expansion process. Since 2014, Ashalim Volunteer staff have led training programs tailored and adapted to the unique needs of Jewish communities in the FSU.

At the Chisinau conference, each delegation was encouraged to present their unique community volunteering projects at a volunteering fair. Participants had the opportunity to learn from their regional counterparts’ successful and original projects, and many said they would return home inspired to continue innovating their local volunteering initiatives. 

Volunteer coordinators in the Jewish community of St. Petersburg organized “Living History,” a series of meetings between the elderly and young people. Senior citizens are given a meaningful chance to share their stories, and the next generation is able to learn about history with people who lived through it.

In Ukraine, volunteers initiated “To live — means to create,” where community members visit the Kiev Pediatric Oncological Center and spend a day interacting with the young cancer patients.

The Jewish community of Mogilev, Belarus brings Jewish theater into the lives of homebound Hesed social welfare center clients. Incorporating costumes, music, and poems, the shows — typically for just one or two viewers — are interactive, providing a much-needed source of entertainment and community belonging.

The conference was a chance to develop professional skills and meet peers engaged in the same kind of important work, said Alexandra Gorbatil, a volunteer coordinator from Moldova.

“The common discussions with coordinators and volunteers from other cities about problems they face with their volunteer projects helped me to find solutions to some of the problems that we were also facing,  he said. “I was surprised how much we were all on the same page and could learn from one another.”

JDC-FSU Executive Director Michal Frank recognizes the wide-ranging benefits of community volunteering.

These volunteer networks "help meet community needs and at the same time develop a high sense of engagement within the volunteers themselves, leading directly to strengthening ties in the community,” she said.

The partnership between the FSU department and Ashalim was instrumental in developing the programming — a joint professional collaboration that involved adapting best practices from Ashalim to the realities in the FSU. 

Ashalim Director of Knowledge Development Liora Arnon has worked closely with the FSU team for the past three years and was part of the team that developed the conference.

She said she’s grateful for the opportunity to work across departments.

“Sharing Ashalim's knowledge and unique professional experience in volunteer management was a valuable professional opportunity for mutual learning and development,” she said. “The conference was an exciting opportunity for me to further learn from my colleagues on topics ranging from community development to cultural sensitivity."

JDC Israel CEO Yossi Tamir also praised the collaboration.

"I see great importance in working shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues in the FSU to develop new programs and partnerships,” he said. “JDC Israel will continue to use its knowledge and expertise to the benefit of JDC globally, and in turn be enriched with the experience and knowledge other divisions can bring to JDC Israel.” 

Tamir said the collaboration will continue with the opening of JDC's Center for Learning early next year in Israel.


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