A Nod Toward Innovation


Four local organizations made the coveted "Slingshot" list, which honors groups annually for their innovation.

The Jewish Learning Venture, which is based in Melrose Park, was named one of the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations in the country by the influential Slingshot Guide.

Also named was the Jewish Farm School, an environmental group based in Philadelphia.

Slingshot, a New York-based group, also rolled out a new supplement to its annual guide highlighting the work of 18 Jewish organizations working in the area of special needs. The Bryn Mawr-based JCHAI made that list.

And Moving Traditions, a Jenkintown-based organization devoted to Jewish education and identity-building for teenagers, was listed as one of 17 “standard bearers,” organizations included year after year as models in innovation.

The Slingshot organization was founded in 2004 by a group of young entrepreneurs looking to fund innovative organizations and programs that had the potential to transform Jewish life. The funders were looking away from large, established organizations and toward upstart projects.

The organization describes its online and printed list as a kind of Zagat guide for individuals looking to support Jewish programs that are making a difference. Landing a spot on Slingshot has meant a major boost in visibility, prestige and, oftentimes, fundraising. Being selected doesn’t automatically mean groups will receive money from the organization, but it makes them eligible to apply for dollars from the Slingshot Fund.

The Jewish Learning Venture is, in many ways, both an established organization and a start-up. Housed on the Mandell Education Campus, it was created following the 2009 merger of the Jewish Outreach Partnership and the Auerbach Center Agency for Jewish Education. The current name was unveiled in 2011.

Jewish Learning Venture’s programs focus on a range of areas including engaging families and young children, leadership training and community building, as well as working to improve supplementary Jewish education.

The group was selected from a pool of hundreds of finalists by 83 individuals with experience in grant-making and Jewish communal service.

In its Oct. 24 announcement, Slingshot stated, “There may be no better example of the drive for ongoing relevancy than at Jewish Learning Venture.”

Rabbi Philip Warmflash, executive director of the Jewish Learning Venture, expressed pride in the selection. “There are now outside people saying that we are at the top of our game in terms of our leadership, our innovation and our effectiveness.”

The guide informs people, Warmflash said, that if “you have money to give, these are places that have really demonstrated that they are doing something noteworthy and impactful.”

JCHAI, serving a total of 70 clients, provides supported independent living for people with intellectual disabilities and autism living in three group homes, several apartments and in their own homes. It is planning to build an integrated apartment building on the Schwartz Campus in Bryn Mawr, which is owned by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

Slingshot specifically highlighted JCHAI's services working with people living in their own homes or while still living with their families. 

Stacy Jarett Levitan, JCHAI’s executive director, said Slingshot is offering the group much-needed assistance in marketing and public relations, since she said JCHAI has thus far put virtually all its resources into serving clients.

“It is really very exciting news,” she said. “The support that they are giving us in terms of helping us spread the word about our program is phenomenal.”


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