Social service organizations working in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts often face a geographical challenge. Although there might be strong demand for their services, the agencies are likely to bump up against the constraints of operating in a relatively small area – including the presence of other organizations working with the same clients.
This past June, those constraints factored into the creation of Jewish Collaborative Services (JCS), which is headquartered at 1165 North Main Street in Providence. JCS resulted from combining Jewish Family Services of Rhode Island (JFS) and Jewish Seniors Agency of Rhode Island (JSA). Both organizations were well-known for providing a broad range of services that include, among others, food and nutrition programs and affordable housing for the disabled and seniors. In late September, the board also elected a new president and CEO, Erin Minior.
The agencies have long referred clients to each other, but their leaders recognized that the “agencies were vying for the same clientele, lay leadership, grant dollars, and donor dollars,” says Susan Bazar, chief of strategy and administration. “In a small state, we were aware that both agencies were providing social services to our constituencies which, over time, overlapped,” she notes. “Beyond this recognition, agency identity confusion prevailed. Often, clients were unclear regarding which agency to call.”
Combining organizations can be a logistical nightmare, but JCS had fortunate timing. While discussions about forming JCS were underway, JFS received a bequest from the Grace K. and Wesley S. Alpert Foundation. Minior explains that the bequest paid for the purchase and renovation of its new headquarters on North Main Street. As the agencies combined, both moved their operations, along with JSA’s case kosher food pantry, into the newly renovated building. “Service provision was seamless – that was a priority from inception,” Minior adds.
Back office integration started before moving and that step was key to operations integration. From a cultural perspective, staff integration was more challenging, Minior admits, but the agencies share a client-centric focus, which made the integration easier. “So, by the time we moved in together, staff was energized and poised to realize our full potential,” says Minior. “A ‘stronger together’ mentality prevailed that has served our staff, clientele and board well.”