By Allie Conn
Jessica Beitch has always had an interest in working with youth and adolescents in underserved communities. Her life path has proven that with passion, experience, and ongoing structural support, one person has the ability to effect social change. When asked if there is a particular Jewish teaching that inspires and encapsulates her justice work, Jessica looked to Pirkei Avot 2:16, which reads, “It is not your obligation to complete the task [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist [from doing all you can].”
“This has always inspired me, while at the same time, kept me from getting completely overwhelmed. I see it as a call to action, with the understanding that one person alone cannot solve our world’s problems – and yet, we are all required to do something. This helps me have faith in communal action and grassroots organizing to bring about change.”
Since serving as an AVODAH corps member in New York from 2005 to 2006, Jessica has continued to work towards creating social change. Jessica’s work placement while in AVODAH was at the Break-Free and Thomas Askin Youth Programs run by the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS), in Brooklyn. During her time there, she provided group therapy and educational sessions to teenagers while gaining exposure to therapeutic interventions used by staff social workers. Jessica describes being “inspired by the way these students were finally being listened to, finally being recognized as individuals with strength and value.” Eight years later, she still considers the JBFCS social workers to be important mentors to her. Jessica holds onto many of the stories of the teenagers she worked with, and is proud to have helped them take positive steps in their lives.
“Being able to analyze my relationships with these students through the supervision I was getting at work, I learned a lot about the effects of being exposed to trauma, the details of adolescent development, and the importance of seeing a person embedded in their environment.”
After AVODAH, Jessica stayed in New York to work in other programs with transitional youth, and along the way recognized there was more she could do for her clients as a social worker, so she studied and received an MSW from the University of California, Berkeley.
Jessica credits AVODAH with introducing her to social work; it helped her to recognize that creating a support network and getting both the individual and macro-level communal perspectives in day-to-day life is important.
“I was inspired by the social work staff at my AVODAH placement to become a social worker and motivated by my fellow AVODAH corps members to pursue justice in my daily life. I learned and grew both personally and professionally that year, hopefully providing as much support to my AVODAH group as they gave me.”
Today, Jessica works as a social worker in the bone marrow transplant division at University of California, San Francisco Medical Center Benioff Children’s Hospital. She supports patients and their families from first consultation with the transplant doctors, through their stay in the hospital, to their time getting back to school and restarting their lives. Jessica has now been working at UCSF for almost two years in different services, including general pediatrics, pediatric oncology, the pediatric intensive care unit, and now in bone marrow transplantation.
In addition to her professional work, Jessica also sits on the board of directors at The Women’s Building, and served as president in 2013. “I wanted an opportunity to balance the micro-level work with a macro-level opportunity to effect change in my own community.” Jessica participated in a “Board Service for Social Change” training through AVODAH, and wanted to implement all that she had learned. As a board member, her main task is to ensure that the organization delivers on its mission of serving women and their families in San Francisco. Jessica credits AVODAH with teaching her many of the fundraising and community organizing skills that she utilizes in her board work and beyond.
Jessica has been a consistent AVODAH supporter and monthly donor for four years. She hopes to support the continued growth of the organization and the ongoing development of the alumni network. “I believe in the mission of AVODAH and hold the organization and my experience as a corps member close to my heart. I choose to support AVODAH and its growing community of corps members as a way to give back and say thank you, but also in hopes of helping the organization continue to thrive and develop.”
When Jessica needs some support or encouragement, she continues to turn first to her AVODAH cohort, who “readily and enthusiastically support me and the work I do, even though many live far away.” Her cohort has an annual retreat of their own, complete with a planning committee, Shabbat planning, meal prep teams, and various activities throughout the weekend. She attributes a large part of her Jewish community today to AVODAH, and is proud to be a member of the alumni network.
“We have all come a long way since our year of service with AVODAH, and I am extremely proud of the individuals we are and what we represent as a collective group – a movement for social change.”
Allie Conn is from Lower Merion, PA, and is the Alumni and Community Engagement Intern at AVODAH. She has an undergraduate degree from Penn State University, and is currently a dual-masters student studying Jewish Experiential Education and Midrash at the Jewish Theological Seminary.