Volunteer Spotlight – September 2021: Louisa Hext

What is your background?

I was born and raised in London, England. My family are Ashkenazi Jews who emigrated from Vilna, Lithuania, and Moscow, Russia, over several generations. I came to the U.S. for graduate work in sociology in 1986, living in Columbus, Ohio. I was recruited by the Minnesota Department of Human Services and moved to the Twin Cities in October 2000. I joined Jewish Community Action (JCA) as a community organizer in the spring of 2006.

I’m currently working as a family and civil mediator, a public speaker, consultant and coach. Additionally, I serve as the North American Coordinator for The Forgiveness Project, which is based in London.

What is your volunteer role with JFCS?

I’ve had the privilege to serve on the Twin Cities Annual Conference on Mental Health planning committee since 2006. Now in its 21st year, the conference: Finding Strength through Resilience continues to respond to the need for reduction of stigma and education surrounding mental health.

I am presenting at this year’s conference as part of The F Word: Stories of Forgiveness exhibit, a program of The Forgiveness Project. I partner with educational institutions, businesses, arts and wellness organizations, faith communities, and other groups in the North America to schedule presentations of the exhibit and talk about the complexities of forgiveness.

How long have you been volunteering with JFCS?

I’ve been a volunteer with JFCS since 2006, serving on the Mental Health Conference planning committee. I took on the liaison role within my community organizer role with Jewish Community Action (JCA) between 2001 and 2006, and have stayed committed ever since.

What motivated you to volunteer with JFCS?

When I moved to the Twin Cities, I wanted to engage within my Jewish community. I became a community organizer with Jewish Community Action and was introduced to JFCS. Tikkun Olam (repair of the world) has always been my guiding philosophy. My volunteerism with JFCS has provided me with incredible opportunities to support people who experience mental illness. My dad, an incredibly important person to me, lived an amazing life despite struggling with bipolar disorder. I want others to see the importance of focusing on people’s strengths and capacities, rather than their perceived limitations.

What’s your favorite part about volunteering with JFCS?

Community, connection, and paying it forward.

How has being a JFCS volunteer impacted your life?

The beautiful thing about my volunteerism with JFCS is feeling intricately connected with other Jewish people. I’ve been embraced and supported at times when I’ve felt lonely and in need. I’m able to share that message with others at times when they may feel disconnected, and invite them to fully engage.

Do you have a memorable story about your JFCS volunteer experience to share?

When I volunteered with the 16th Annual Mental Health Education Conference, I was privileged to coordinate the screening of the documentary film, Look At Us Now, Mother!

My friend and colleague, filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum joined the audience following the screening as part of a meet-the-filmmaker reception.

Look At Us Now, Mother! is a humorous, moving, intimate and courageous film following the transformation of an abusive mother and tumultuous mother-daughter relationship to that of acceptance and love as we follow the personal story of the filmmaker.

What would you say to someone who’s thinking of volunteering with JFCS?

Just do it! It will change your life!

Anything else to share?

I’ve seen the conference evolve to one that is inclusive of all people, not just individuals who identify as Jewish. When the conference launched, the focus was on Jewish individuals who experienced mental illness, their families, and friends. Now the conference has attracted professionals, service providers and those who are curious about mental health, in addition to people of all faiths and backgrounds. Last year, when the conference moved to a virtual platform, participant registrations broadened to reach the entire U.S., Canada, and across the globe. This conference is for everyone!

Click here for more information and to register for this year’s Mental Health Conference: Finding Strength Through Resilience.

For more information about becoming a JFCS volunteer, contact Dana Shapiro, Community and Volunteer Engagement Coordinator & Intake Counselor, at dshapiro@jfcsmpls.org or 952-417-2112 or click here.