When some discover their life goals cannot be achieved, they shrug their shoulders and move on. Others, however, decide to empower themselves. When they see that their dream cannot be actualized they throw in a “…not yet.”
This is the story of Marla Gamoran. She’s a “not-yet” type of person.
Gamoran wanted to volunteer in Israel, but couldn’t find meaningful volunteer opportunities, so she created her own program that has not only benefited her, but dozens of other professional adults.
“After my husband and I purchased a small apartment in Jerusalem, I was looking for a way to spend my time in Israel,” she told JTNews. “I was interested in finding a Jerusalem-based volunteer opportunity.”
But such volunteer opportunities were sparse.
“I started my search on the web and was quite surprised to learn…that the programs all seemed to age out at 30 years old,” Gamoran, a former education administrator, said. “Moreover, none of the programs I found for older adults, with the exception of dentists, were structured to utilize the professional skills and expertise of the volunteer in the volunteer position.”
So Gamoran began her own volunteer program, Skilled Volunteers for Israel (SVFI), which matches experienced professionals with skilled volunteer opportunities in Israel.
“I decided to launch SVFI as a means of connecting professional North American Jews with Israel by facilitating the match between the skill and expertise of the volunteer with a real need within an Israeli non-profit or educational organization,” said the former Chicagoan.
“Given that there are over a million Jewish baby boomers in the U.S.A. alone, and that the boomers represent an educated, healthy segment of the Jewish population, and that for many of the Jewish boomers, we were raised with a strong and positive connection to Israel,” she said. “I felt that if I was looking for a means to volunteer using my professional background, so would others.”
In 2011, its first year of operation, SVFI placed four volunteers. At the same time, SVFI focused on building relationships with Israeli non-profits and establishing the processes needed for placement, screening and support of future volunteers and receiving organizations.
In 2012, SVFI placed 21 volunteers. In 2013, SVFI hopes to increase that number to 35.
The organization serves a variety of professionals, including scientists, organizational consultants, university professors, attorneys, rabbis, teachers, accountants and business people.
In addition, plans include starting a branch in Seattle, spearheaded by Saul Gamoran, Marla Gamoran’s brother-in-law and one of SVFI’s board members.
“I look forward to hosting an event this fall in Seattle to increase local awareness and draw skilled volunteers from the Northwest,” Saul Gamoran said. “Marla’s brainchild unearthed a tremendous reservoir of untapped desire among adults to volunteer in Israel using their professional skills.”
2013 will also see a pilot group-volunteer program, in collaboration with the Jewish Federation of Greater Miami.
Skilled volunteering placement requires personalized methodology, according to Marla Gamoran, similar to that of hiring someone for a job. The skilled volunteer position is designed to utilize the skills, experience and expertise of the volunteer to contribute to the needs of a project or program in an Israeli organization.
SVFI places volunteers though its own customized placements, as well as via collaboration with the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, which includes a “Volunteer and Study” track within the yeshiva’s summer program.
“We had heard from organizations that they do periodically receive requests from individuals from abroad interested in volunteering, but don’t have the capacity to screen volunteers from abroad,” Marla Gamoran said, which tied in well to what SVFI could offer.
Past SVFI volunteer opportunities have included mentoring start-up businesses, providing strategic planning to an organization that serves children with disabilities, providing training on HIV prevention, and remediating English skills for disadvantaged students.
“In terms of most needed professions, our conversations with Israeli organizations indicate that there is high need for individuals who have writing, marketing, social media, teaching and tutoring skills,” Marla Gamoran said.
Organizers are currently working to establish a relationship with a clinic in south Tel Aviv, which is seeking medical expertise to serves refugees and asylum seekers.
“[Placement] takes creativity and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking to determine how to best put to use the volunteer’s skills and the organization’s needs,” Marla Gamoran said.
In most cases, SVFI is matching the professional with the opportunity, but not much more.
“[The volunteers] are contributing not only their time and expertise, but the full cost of their stay in Israel, including housing, living expenses and travel,” she said. “We have a very limited number of placements that do include housing and board in youth villages in Israel where the volunteer participates in a program that requires a specific skill set.”