Diving into Board Membership

A new Fed Fellow describes her journey

The 2016 to 2018 Federation Fellows (“Fed Fellows”) cohort is a dynamic and thoughtful group of 20 men and women, aspiring to become more connected, involved, and attuned to the Jewish nonprofit world in the Bay Area. Recently, I attended our Fed Fellow orientation. On my right sat the executive director of the Santa Rosa synagogue of my late grandparents. On my left sat a Harvard pre-med graduate with plans to earn her Masters in Science in genetic counseling.

Katherine Tick and Molly Stern, respectively director and associate of Leadership Development at the Federation, warmly welcomed us to our newfound community of ambitious lay leaders. During our round of introductions, we shared how we have each been meticulously matched to serve as Fellows on various boards of Jewish organizations in the Bay Area.

As a family law attorney and Bay Area native, I explained how the Jewish Community High School of the Bay piqued my interest. I shared that am looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about the wants and needs of San Francisco moms and dads, and help assist the school board in any way I can to serve the needs of the students and the school.

We are all unified by a desire to give.

Next, Katherine engaged us in a discussion of what it means to be a leader. My first thoughts when it comes to leadership are advocacy and empowerment. I work with men and women who often feel frightened, insecure, and powerless in their failed marriages, and help them take the necessary strides to take back their lives and start over. Every day at my office and in the courtroom I experience a dynamic of conflict, and endeavor to resolve disputes by proposing the most reasonable resolutions in the best interest of the families. When the opposing party is unreasonable, zealous advocacy is the only means I have of securing my client’s right to custody and financial support.

I am struck by how differently the Fellows understand and verbalize what it means to be a leader. Most of the group expressed leadership as togetherness, unity, crescendo. They aspire to influence others to act as a collective whole for the greater good. Others focused on what the leader gains from the actual experience of leadership: self-actualization, opportunity, possibility. One of the most popular images of leadership selected by the fellows was a lone person gazing up at all the stars in the sky.

Finally, Joy Sisisky, the Federation's chief philanthropy officer, spoke with us earnestly about the pain points we may face serving on a board based on her own personal experience. She urged us to speak out (tactfully) and make an impact in a manner true to ourselves as we will each add value with our unique perspectives and ideas. I appreciated Joy’s openness as she shared the uncensored story of her first experience serving on a board, and will take her advice to heart.

I look forward to my first board meeting with the Jewish Community High School of the Bay as my journey continues as a Fed Fellow.

Valerie Fenchel, born in Oakland and raised in Walnut Creek, lives in San Francisco and is a Family Law Attorney at Lerner Poole, LLP. Outside of work, Valerie enjoys speaking to women’s groups, live music, and weekend trips. She is a member of the 2016-2018 Fed Fellows cohort.

Federation Fellows is a two-year leadership building program that develops the next generations of leaders for the Jewish community. Learn More

Categories: Leadership, Young Adults


September 13, 2016


Valerie Fenchel