More Than Just Job Training

How JVS is creating connections amid COVID-19

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end, which you can never afford to lose, with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

– Admiral James Stockdale, 7-year POW at the Hanoi Hilton

Admiral Stockdale’s words, popularized by the business writer Jim Collins as the “Stockdale Paradox,” have helped guide many of America’s most successful business leaders toward making vital assessments and adaptations to the ever-changing realities that their organizations faced.

Lisa Countryman-Quiroz

And that same mix of reality-based yet hopeful thinking was reflected in a recent conversation with Lisa Countryman-Quiroz, CEO of Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), who along with her dedicated team, has been responding to the COVID-19 crisis, in all of its gravity, in inspired yet practical ways.

Historically, the mission of JVS has been to help Bay Area residents find family-sustaining wage employment through job training programs in healthcare, financial services, technology, and other growing sectors that offer pathways to careers.

But when COVID-19 hit with brutal force, the JVS team knew it was time to pivot to confront a reality even more threatening to our economic well-being than the great recession of 2007-2009. In fact, during the peak period of the recession between December 2007 and January 2010, an astounding 1.16 million Californians lost their jobs. But between February and June of this year, 2.07 million Californians’ jobs were lost due to Coronavirus. That’s nearly double the job losses of the great recession in just five months.

“Our neighbors have lost jobs, have lost income, and are experiencing soaring financial stress,” wrote Countryman-Quiroz several weeks ago. And according to their community client survey, 82% of JVS clients could not afford an unanticipated cost or emergency expense of $400. 60% were worried about their ability to pay their next month’s rent or mortgage, 82% were living paycheck to paycheck, and 46% had lost their job due to a worksite shut down.

In response, JVS established a $1 million COVID-19 Emergency Fund.

Not only has the Fund helped open gateways to online and virtual programming – including the creation of 25 new workshops – it has also allocated funds to be distributed as cash support for individuals in need.

“What we saw on the survey was that people were really concerned about their basic needs: their family's health, their ability to buy food, and their ability to pay rent,” said Countryman-Quiroz. “We also knew that people would probably need access to WiFi and laptops, so that was kind of where our own emergency fundraising was (initially) directed. It was incredibly useful to be in that first wave of Federation grants because we were then able to respond very quickly to our clients’ new needs which included things like emergency cash support.”

One of the most impressive aspects of the COVID-19 Emergency Fund has been the fact that 98% of client requests for emergency dollars were approved. That’s a lot of groceries, medical bills, and rent checks that were delivered on time as a direct result of the JVS push to respond to the most pressing needs of their clients and community members.

People had a need and JVS was there, without miles of red tape.

With regard to what comes next, Countryman-Quiroz is passionate about leveraging networks in every way that she can and hopes that the philanthropic community and corporate partners will remain engaged. “Everyone has to have some skin in the game in order to solve this problem.”

In addition to the financial support provided by the Federation, a significant percentage of individual donors to their emergency fundraising campaign were JVS alumni. “Which is really beautiful,” said Countryman-Quiroz. “And it affirms that they felt that the services that they received were truly effective and really deeply meaningful to them and that they wanted to pay it back and forward, and in any way they could.”

Our Federation is guided by the values of kehilla (community), tzedakah (giving with just intention), and tikkun olam (repairing the world), and it is wonderful to see how those same values are being put into practice by our friends at Jewish Vocational Services at a time when we so desperately need them.

You can contribute directly to the JVS COVID-19 Emergency Fund, or contact for more information.

Learn more about the Federation’s COVID-19 response.

Categories: Grantees, Community


August 19, 2020


Jon Moskin