Charles “Les” Robbins is the type of Jew who eats matzah year-round. For the long-time Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel member, the love of the Passover food is perhaps symbolic of his commitment to living Jewishly all the time.
His integration of Jewish values in both his personal and professional roles is what he believes made him a good fit to become Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia’s board chair on Sept. 1.
“Les immediately became involved in the work of JFCS when he became a board member, and he cares deeply about serving the needs of the community,” JFCS President and CEO Paula Goldstein said. “I am delighted to work with him now as chair of our board of directors and trustees as he ensures that our organization continues to thrive and impact so many in need.”
Robbins has been both the treasurer and assistant treasurer of the 25-member JFCS board; he served as a member of the BZBI board for several years in the 1990s and 2000s while his children were attending Hebrew school there; and he was a board of trustees member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Having served on the JFCS board since 2016, Robbins is familiar with the organization’s mission of directly serving the community, beyond just the Jewish community.
“Approximately 50% of the service we provide is to people who are not Jewish,” Robbins said. “It’s great to be able to have a larger impact and to be able to do it through a Jewish lens.”
Robbins intends to focus on the reach JFCS has on the broader community during his time as board chair.
To serve the greater community, Robbins, a financial adviser with Wells Fargo Advisors, will focus on expanding mental health services and prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion within JFCS’ leadership.
Robbins believes that in underserved communities, mental health resources can be scarce; mental illness is often stigmatized.
“It’s critically important that people be able to have access to those [mental health] resources so that they can stabilize their lives and be the best that they can be,” Robbins said. “If you don’t address underlying problems, they just kind of fester or magnify.”
To prioritize mental health in the community, Robbins hopes to raise awareness of preexisting mental health resources with which to connect people. He wants to help those seeking help manage costs of care. JFCS is applying to grants that would provide funding for these goals.
Expanding mental health resources is personal to Robbins. His daughter’s preschool friend’s mother dealt with mental health issues; JFCS helped provide resources and options to her.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are also personal to Robbins, who intends to create a pipeline for those of diverse backgrounds to become leaders at JFCS. As a Black man now leading the board of directors, Robbins’ efforts to diversify the board have already proven fruitful.
However, he believes the diversification of Jewish leadership has hardly begun. Robbins knows this process doesn’t happen overnight. And he isn’t looking for diversity hires.
“We don’t have a quota; we’re not going to just select someone by virtue of them ticking a box,” he said.
Putting emphasis on the diverse Greater Philadelphia community JFCS serves, Robbins said that diversifying the board is crucial to fulfilling the organization’s mission of serving vulnerable community members.
“It’s important that we start to have the voices of the people we serve on the board. It provides a perspective on issues that wouldn’t otherwise be there,” Robbins said.
JFCS has helped to serve those outside of the Jewish community most recently through the assistance of Afghan evacuees.
Through its In Your Neighborhood program, JFCS was able to combat food insecurity by providing food to evacuees. Through Our Closet, it was able to donate and distribute clothing through partnerships with HIAS Pennsylvania and the Nationalities Service Center.
With the ultimate goal of making JFCS more known to the greater community, Robbins hopes to amplify the organization’s impact.
“Our organization is a Jewish organization; the values that we espouse are Jewish values,” Robbins said. “But, to a large extent, these values are universal. And so [JFCS] is a great place to be.”