Business First Interviews Judy Freundlich Tiell

IN PERSON: ‘The kinds of things we do relate to people from birth to death’

Judy Freundlich Tiell says Jewish Family and Career Services has adapted with the times to provide support to all Louisvillians

By Joel Stinnett
Sep 27, 2017, 1:38pm EDT

Sometimes, no matter what an organization is named, it can’t capture everything the group does.

File Jewish Family and Career Services into that category.

While most of its services fall under the umbrella of family and careers, the nonprofit’s impact is felt far outside those spheres. “The kinds of things we do relate to people from birth to death,” JFCS executive director Judy Freundlich Tiell said. “We are sort of a one-stop shop for human services.”

For example, JFCS provides pre- and post-adoption services to families, while also conducting senior home care and providing transportation to and from doctor’s appointments.

The organization runs a food pantry that serves about 140 people a month, has a microenterprise lending program, helps refugees and immigrants settle into their new lives and provides career services to adults and college students.

Tiell said JFCS, which has 30 full-time employees, served about 9,000 people last year from every ZIP code in the Louisville area.

“We are open to everyone, not just the Jewish community,” Tiell said. “One of our beliefs is that by serving the entire community, we’re helping to heal the world, which is a very important Jewish value.”

Tiell joined the organization in 1979 to run family life education groups such as parenting classes and marital counseling. She said she got into social work because she was fascinated by helping people better understand themselves and coaching them to make better decisions.

“Social work is about being proactive,” Tiell said. “It’s also about realizing it’s not all about me. It’s about me and my world. I truly believe people can change.”

Tiell rose the ranks inside the agency and was named executive director in 2004. She was at the helm when the Great Recession hit the country and career services became an even more important safety net for the community.

She said JFCS helped unemployed workers learn how to apply for jobs online, go back to school and learn new trades.

The agency also teamed up with Kentuckiana Works to start a new program that focused on the behavioral health issues that often accompany unemployment.

Tiell said that when people are out of work they often become anxious and depressed, which can lead to destructive solutions like turning to alcohol. This behavior can negatively affect a person’s family and job search, she said.

Tiell said the program was so successful it continues today and family members of those JFCS has helped come in for other services.

“We are even beginning to see grandchildren of clients we helped years and years ago,” Tiell said.

As Louisville’s economy continues to evolve and the population grows older, Tiell said JFCS and its almost 300 volunteers will be there to assist the community.

“The good thing is that I don’t have to know everything about everything,” Tiell said. “I provide the tone and the vision and I have a wonderful group of professionals that help manage the programmatic matters. People who work here really believe that they are making a difference in people’s lives and so it’s easy for me to marshal that enthusiasm because it’s here on staff.”

Tiell took a few minutes to answer a more of our questions:

What did you want to be when you grew up?

As a young child, I was so inspired by the story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan that I wanted to be a teacher of children with disabilities. As I got older, I became fascinated with politics and government and alternately wanted to be a state department employee or an attorney. Once I entered college, it became clear that I really was most interested in understanding people and helping them to make change in their lives, so I moved forward in the psychology/social work field.

How have you changed as leader since you became executive director?

I have always believed in an open style of leadership through which I engage opinions from others, welcome conversation and then feel comfortable making a decision. I believe in leading by example and try to model behavior that I like to see. I encourage others to grow in their roles and really buy into the critical mission and services at JFCS.

What is the biggest challenge JFCS faces in the next year?

For most nonprofits, funding continues to be very challenging, whether its government or private funding. We continue to see enormous need for our services and finding resources to meet that need is a challenge.

What is the biggest thing people don’t know about JFCS?

We serve the entire community — all faiths and ethnic origins — not just the Jewish community.

What is the average person’s biggest concern when they come to JFCS for career counseling?

We see such a variety of individuals that there is not one average person’s concern. For some career counseling clients, they are employed but looking to improve their current work life or make a change, perhaps into a whole new career area. Other people are coming because they want to understand more about themselves and find a better fit for a career. Some people are coming for employment services, wanting help with resumes, job search skills and networking. Other people come for career counseling in order to decide on the best training or educational option. Generally, we see people who want a career or job change, either voluntarily or not by their choice. Our career services are very individualized to meet the needs of the client. Where is your favorite place to go on vacation? The mountains or the southwestern U.S.

What is the last book you read?

“Hillbilly Elegy”

What is your favorite restaurant in Louisville? Mayan Cafe What makes JFCS a special place? We have a great team — staff, board, volunteers — who are enthusiastically committed to the mission and values at JFCS. We are truly honored by the trust our clients extend to us as we help them learn the skills to manage transitions and meet life’s challenges related to family, work, aging and financial stability. 

Judy Freundlich Tiell

Title: Executive director of Jewish Family and Career Services

Age: 62 Hometown: West Orange, N.J.

Resides: East End

Career history: At JFCS since 1979, first as a therapist and coordinator of family life education. Twenty years later, she moved into more administrative roles, becoming executive director of the agency in 2004

Education: Master’s degree in clinical social work and master’s degree in Jewish studies; Licensed clinical social worker

Family: Husband, Bob, two adult sons, Jeff and Scott

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