Introducing Family Life Education Program Manager Leah Persky

Leah Persky was recently hired as the JFCS Family Life Education Program Manager. Family Life Education (FLE) takes JFCS out into the community and brings the community into JFCS through presentations, trainings, workshops, classes, support groups, individual meetings and consultations. Customized programming includes topics such as parenting, teacher trainings, interfaith challenges, bullying, grief and loss, supporting caregivers, and building healthy relationships. Read below to learn more about Leah’s background and what her goals are for JFCS’ Family Life Education program.


Why did the FLE Program Manager position appeal to you?


I am really drawn to the goals and mission of JFCS. The organization’s commitment to social justice, inclusivity, and compassion for all is evident in the mission and work of the organization. The value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) really resonated with me and my past work in human rights and social justice. I also am drawn to this position because I am able to utilize my expertise as an educator and researcher and make a direct positive impact on my community. I have a passion for teaching and facilitating courses for adult learners and enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of family life education. My training in global health, social sciences, community engaged teaching, and online course development has well prepared me for this role. I love being in the classroom, serving the community, and engaging in lifelong learning.


I am excited to work with and for the community with the goal of improving the health and well-being of all. As the Family Life Education Manager, I look forward to collaborating with longstanding and new partners and providing relevant and innovative programming. I look forward to meeting you!


What is your background?


I have a passion for public health, social justice, gender issues and all things politics. I have my Ph.D. in political science and my M.A. in international studies and conflict resolution. I have taught political science, global health and gender courses at the college level for the past 10 years. I also have many years of experience working with and for non-profit organizations with a focus on community engaged teaching and learning, research, and partnership building. My studies have taken me to Washington, D.C. and the U.K. to study gender and maternity leave and to Belize to conduct research on human rights education and policing. I love teaching, learning, writing, and meeting new people. I also have years of experience teaching yoga and am a certified yoga teacher for adults. Yoga, running and skiing keep me sane and happy!


How has the realm of community workshops/support groups/trainings evolved over the years, and how will JFCS address these changes?


One of the greatest changes for all types of educational institutions is the shift to using the internet and other technologies for teaching and learning purposes. For example, there is a huge uptick in online course offerings at every level of education and a great increase in the number of people enrolled in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These online course offerings are available on diverse topics, open to all, and usually at minimal or no cost. This opens up a whole new space for teaching and learning in the community and it is really exciting!


Technology will complement the face-to-face learning our program has always done – not replace it. One of the greatest opportunities going forward for JFCS is harnessing the power of technology and online educational tools in order to create effective community educational programming and collaboration. Figuring out how to balance the need for personal connection, community engagement, and technology is one of the most exciting challenges that lies ahead for us. JFCS has such strong connections to the community and a long history of providing relevant and effective community programming – these new technologies and avenues will only strengthen this amazing work. I am excited to be part of this opportunity.


What issues do you think currently are, or will be, of importance to our community in the coming years?


I always have my eye on the political world and I think one of the great challenges currently facing our country is one that has an impact on families and our local community: the increasing political polarization of our nation. It makes having meaningful discussions about politics and current events nearly impossible between those that have opposing political views or party affiliation. Not only does this pose a challenge for our democracy, but also for relationships between family members.


There are many learning opportunities here. Most of all of us are becoming increasingly isolated from those different from us and this means that empathy, understanding and well-being for all are suffering as a result. I am in the process of developing community workshops that will focus on building understanding and empathy for others with different political views, breaking down stereotypes of others, and providing tactics for engaging in civil and meaningful dialogue with others (including family members) who have opposing political beliefs.


Other issues of great relevance to our community include recognizing and de-stigmatizing mental illness and addiction; understanding how to use technology in a mindful and productive way for everyone in the family; addressing interfaith issues within Jewish families and in the broader community; and addressing issues of bullying and violence in schools and other public spaces.


A common theme running through all of these and other pressing matters has to do with how our country is becoming an increasingly unequal place. Income inequality is on the rise and has clear gendered and racial patterns. These patterns of inequality have many complex negative impacts in society. Rather than accept these changes, I think we all have a responsibility to learn about them and work to be part of the solution.