Three generations of the Barry family will be honored at JFCS’ 33rd Annual Benefit
Melanie Barry, along with her children, Michael and Etta, Ronald and Shari, and Leslie and Jerad and their families, will be presented with the Friends of the Family Award
At its Annual Benefit each year, JFCS presents the Friends of the Family Award to a family that has shown exemplary service to the agency over the years. With support that goes back almost 30 years and now stretches across three generations, honoring the Barry family with the award this year was an easy decision, said CEO Judy Halper.
“The Barry family is truly one of the extraordinary families in our community because they are generation-to-generation committed to philanthropy, Judaism, and volunteerism,” she said. “Among this family, you will find individuals who are involved with synagogue leadership, Federation governance, inclusion programming, fundraising, mentoring, and just about any other way you can think to contribute. They care deeply about our community and want to do whatever they can to ensure everyone benefits and thrives.”
The family’s support stretches from Melanie Barry to her children, Michael and Etta, Ronald and Shari, and Leslie and Jerad, as well as her grandchildren. Melanie first got involved with JFCS many years ago when she started volunteering for the Annual Benefit. She continued to be involved with JFCS’ biggest fundraising event each year, including as the co-chair of the Benefit dinner. She has also chaired the JFCS Inclusion Program’s annual Tybie Proman Passover Seder.
When JFCS helped many Russian families re-settle in the Twin Cities in the 1980s and 90s, Melanie and her family served as a host to one. She fondly remembers taking the mother to a grocery store and seeing her reaction at an ATM machine. “When the money came out, she started to scream,” Melanie said. “She thought it was free money!”
Melanie still stays in touch with the family today even though they now live in California. She praised JFCS for all the programs it has to assist new immigrants, as well as lifelong Minnesotans from the Jewish and broader community.
“We contribute to JFCS because it supports many different factions,” Melanie said. “We try to meet the needs of people, whether it is a large program or a very small one.”
Michael and Etta
Etta was the first one in their family to take a hands-on role volunteering for JFCS. She started in the late 1980s, serving as a “Big” in the Jewish Youth Mentoring Program (formerly Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister Program) before she and Michael were even married. From there, she got involved with numerous aspects of JFCS – she served on the Annual Benefit Committee for 25 years, chairing the event two times; she served on the JFCS Board for many years, including as Board President. She’s also volunteered at many Passover seders, Chanukah parties, for the Twin Cities Jewish Healing Program Committee, the Hag Sameach program and more.
“I loved participating in events where I could be with people,” Etta said. “Then I got more involved behind the scenes. It’s always been important to me to help other people.”
Michael has served on the Minneapolis Jewish Federation Board of Directors – including as its President – and was involved on the panel that oversaw JFCS’ budget. He and Etta are longtime financial supporters of JFCS and both have been involved with big moves for JFCS, though ironically, two different ones. Michael was a big help in acquiring the Minnetonka building that JFCS moved into in 1999 from its offices in St. Louis Park. And Etta was involved with the planning process for JFCS’ move in 2018 to its current location in Golden Valley – from Minnetonka.
Their support for JFCS is continuing on with their children as well. Their son, Ben, has served on the JFCS NextGen Board for the last three years. He attended a JFCS NextGen Summer Party about five years ago when he was shortly out of college and remembers feeling somewhat awkward that he didn’t see too many people around his age range. But rather than deter him, he decided to get more involved, join the program’s Board and work on making its events more welcoming to this younger age range.
“I’ve enjoyed getting to know the people on the Board and the perspectives they bring,” he said. “I’m involved with planning events – I now know more people at the social events and I try to start conversations with people if they aren’t talking to anyone.”
Michael said their family loves that JFCS serves the broader community, but pointed out that it is the most hands-on agency in serving Jews who need its services. “JFCS reaches the most vulnerable part of the community – whether its mental health programs, job services, or something else,” he said. “JFCS is the only agency on the ground that can provide those services to the Jewish community.”
Etta said being involved with JFCS for so many years has allowed her to become more aware of all the services it provides and makes sure to make referrals whenever she can when she’s out in the community. “I have grown so much because of everything I’ve done with JFCS,” she said. “It helps so many people across the board – there are so many ways you can be involved to help people. I was raised to do that. The agency makes it really easy to volunteer – it’s hard to say no.”
Ronald and Shari
Ronald and Shari’s involvement at JFCS goes back many decades too. Shari first got involved with the Annual Benefit more than 30 years ago, when both her own mother, Margie Cohen, and Melanie would take her along to help out. Over the years, she chaired every committee for the event and eventually Co-Chaired the Benefit twice. The second time was with Ronald, who has volunteered for the Benefit many years as well. It was the only time in 30-plus years that a husband and wife chaired the event together.
As one of very few men that have chaired the Annual Benefit, Ronald jumped right in with both feet. He engaged several new committee members, inspired a very large gift from a new-to-JFCS foundation and embraced an unusual year when our 32nd Annual Benefit had to go virtual. He spent many hours planning our first virtual Benefit and even acted in several sketches during the event, as well as a promotional video for it. Ronald continues to be involved in our comedian selection and any other way he can engage at JFCS.
Shari is now in her second year on the JFCS Board, serving on its Board Development Committee. “Being on the Board has really opened my eyes wider on the full spectrum of JFCS programs and services and it’s even more insightful,” she said. “It’s been a phenomenal experience.”
When their kids were younger, the family would volunteer together for JFCS’ Hag Sameach program every year. “Donating money is great,” Shari said, “but giving our time and our passion for such a great organization has really been very fulfilling for both of us – to be able to support a great cause.”
Ronald pointed out that their son, Mark, now serves on the JFCS NextGen Board. “I was always taught that philanthropy is important,” he said. “That’s something I tried to instill with my kids. Knowing that JFCS’ work is helping children and families – even if our contributions help just a little bit – is such a joy for us.”
Leslie and Jerad
Like her mother and siblings, Leslie, and along with her husband, Jerad, are longtime financial supporters of JFCS and Leslie has volunteered for the Annual Benefit as well. One of JFCS’ programs that has made a big impact on their family is the Vocational Rehabilitation and Extended Employment program, which provides services to individuals with disabilities who are seeking to improve their work lives or find employment.
Leslie said that when her son was a student at the Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School (HMJDS), he often had the opportunity to see and visit with some of the fantastic workers that were employed through this program. Through these interactions, she said, he began to understand that opportunities could be endless for anyone willing and able to do a good day’s work. It opened discussions about how development, support, and accommodations can help everyone to succeed.
“This program opens doors and breaks down barriers,” Leslie said. “These are life lessons that everyone can learn from and are lessons that align with our family values. This program, in an indirect way, has truly had a positive impact on our family.”