JFCS Staff Q&A: Jewish Youth Mentoring Program Coordinator Dori Gelfman

Dori Gelfman

Dori Gelfman was recently named JFCS’ Jewish Youth Mentoring Program (JYMP) Coordinator. The program goes back more than 40 years – Dori spoke about what her goals are for it:

Why did the coordinator position appeal to you?

This position and this program have a special place in my heart. My father-in-law was a “Big” through the program almost 40 years ago and his “Little” is still a member of our family. They have maintained a very special relationship and it has extended well past their time with JFCS. My children call him uncle; he is at all family holiday celebrations and events and has made a meaningful impact in our lives. I knew through that relationship how valuable this program is to our community. 

I am a nurse and decided to make some changes during COVID. I wanted to do something different, where I was able to connect with people in a meaningful, holistic way. I had a unique opportunity to work for a startup as the community manager for people experiencing infertility. I would make the matches and help to maintain the relationships. When this job was posted it was b’sheret – it matched all my interests and skills and seemed like the perfect next step for me.

What are some of the strengths of the JYMP that make it unique?

Mentoring means different things to different people. In this case, it simply means showing up and being present. The program has been around for a very long time at JFCS, and like in my family, has played a major role in many family’s lives. This program allows Jewish kids from anywhere in the community to find connection. JYMP provides a connection and a feeling of positive Jewish identity to anyone. We are not bound by location, institution, or affiliation. You can be a teen looking to give back, a 9-year-old with three older siblings that just wants someone to play catch with, or a grandparent with grandchildren out of state. Whatever your background, this program provides a supported positive Jewish relationship to anyone who wants to be involved.

Another strength is that I was born and raised in Minneapolis and have deep roots and connections to other organizations and people here. This will allow me to strengthen and support matches, recruit more people interested in learning about the program, and grow our offering so that we are able to support families and mentors however they need. I hope that this personalized approach will expand the program and allow us to be around for another 40+years!

How have matches in the program retained their bonds throughout the pandemic?

Admittedly, it has not been easy. Separation has made connection markedly more difficult. However, people became very creative! Virtual Shabbat candle lighting, game nights over Zoom, outdoor walks, activities and letter writing were still happening. Most matches have remained strong; however, we really have not had an opportunity to make many new matches in almost two years.

This is the perfect time to volunteer as a mentor or sign up a child who is looking for a one-on-one Jewish connection. JYMP makes it easy to apply and participate; if you are interested in finding joy through connection, you can apply here. There are plenty of activities and events to safely experience together and I am happy to help brainstorm activities to do together in a safe way, whatever your comfort level.

What are your goals for the program?

My main goal for this program is to reinvigorate the community’s interest in connection, to anyone identifying as Jewish, in a positive and impactful way. I really want this program to provide anyone in the community the opportunity for meaningful Jewish connection. That doesn’t mean anything more than just being present. Maybe it connects someone who is the only Jewish child at their school with a mentor who lights Chanukah candles; maybe it means going out to lunch and eating matzo ball soup and kugel. It really can mean anything that will allow them to feel connected.

Anyone can benefit from a personal, one-on-one connection with someone who is giving their undivided attention to them. There should be no barrier to enter the Jewish community, so if this program can offer a connection to someone who in other ways is unaffiliated, wonderful!

Anything else you would like to add?

I am really excited to be a part of this legacy at JFCS and would love to hear from you! I have a lot of ideas and want to grow this program so that it is a fun, social opportunity for anyone, but I need your help. Do you have ideas, or know someone that would be interested in being a mentor or mentee? I hope that I can be a small part in helping make meaningful connections. Email me at dgelfman@jfcsmpls.org

Click here for more information on the Jewish Youth Mentoring Program