(Another Reason) Why I love what I do.

Boy is it cold out there.  For me, a Miami boy, this is skin-peeling cold.  I know because I just walked four blocks up Broad Street in this wind.  I was walking to visit my friend Josh at the Red Shield Shelter.  Josh is the Business Manager at the shelter, a residence for homeless families, and he is responsible for tracking the residents’ savings.  Each resident is working towards finding an apartment or home of their own, and as they search, they are required to save part of their income (whether that income is from actual labor, or from disability, veterans or other sorts of social welfare benefits).  Residents therefore have a savings goal.  This goal is one of the keys to their future independence.

 A few years ago, in conversation with Susan Brotherton, the director of Red Shield, I decided to help provide an incentive for this savings.  You see, I had this problem . . . YOU!  My members here at Rodeph Shalom were (and are) so generous towards my philanthropic fund that I needed to find creative ways of giving away more tzedekah.  Yes, I support a variety of organizations, Jewish and secular, local, global and in Israel, but I wanted to find something personal and in our neighborhood.  What could be more personal than the people who move off of the bitter cold streets and into a homeless shelter not four blocks from Rodeph Shalom?  (By the way, they have a big “RS” banner in their lobby, and it stands for Red Shield, not Rodeph Shalom—but how’s that for beshert?)  

So we decided that I would pledge to provide a $250 Target gift card to anyone who reaches 80% of their savings goal.  As you can imagine, this was met with excitement at the shelter, and it has worked to spur residents towards greater savings.  When I show up at Red Shield, I’m like Norm walking into Cheers!  The receptionist immediately buzzes me in and says “It’s the rabbi.”  How good does that feel!  And how good it is for our relationships with our neighbors!  Check out this thank you note from Josh:

Rabbi Holzman,

        I can not thank you enough for your generous contribution!  I just called the resident who moved yesterday and she was absolutely thrilled.  This incentive is an incredible addition to the Savings and Fees Program.  I wasn’t sure if you meant that the letter in the envelope was for the resident or for me, so I carefully opened one to check.  Just wanted to let you know that I’ve actually changed the Savings and Fees Participation percentage to 90% of what is expected instead of 80% because of the recent success of the program. . .  

Again, I would like to extend my gratitude.  I hope that you and everyone at Congregation Rodeph Shalom understand what a powerful difference things like this make in lives of our residents and their children.
Please extend my thanks to everyone involved!
Have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll speak to you soon.

Warmest Regards,

Josh Nonnenmocher
Business Manager
Red Shield Family Residence
715 N. Broad St.
Philadelphia, PA 19123


And the program has become so popular that we’ve raised the bar, and now the incentive is for 90% of savings goals.  The idea is that they reach their goal, move out and use the Target card to go shopping for home furnishings. It’s hard enough to save up for rent, now imagine saving up for pillows and a pasta strainer, towels and toilet paper.  Our gift card helps. This is win-win-win-win.  You give tzedekah, Rodeph Shalom builds strong neighborhood relationships, a deserving family gets a bit of help moving home, and I feel great!  What could be better?

Now all I need is someone who has the time to call the nearest Target, talk up the manager and get them to match my gift, and then we’d really be talking.   Any takers?

One Response to (Another Reason) Why I love what I do.

  1. Keith says:

    Rabbi Holzman – great post and great to see RS making such a difference in the Center City Philly community.

    I would offer that the local store manager might be constrained by corporate guidelines on doing a direct match (but it never hurts to try). An alternative might be to talk with Josh about having the Red Shield Shelter as a part of the Salvation Army, work within the corporate commitments Target has to Salvation Army, which you can find here: http://sites.target.com/site/en/company/page.jsp?contentId=WCMP04-031787. Specifically maybe Red Shield needs a new or remodeled media center for residents to do research on apartments or jobs. Hope this idea helps.

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