JF&CS News Fall 2011

Legacy of Growth, Innovation, Vision

At the end of this month, Sy Friedland will retire after 18 years as CEO of JF&CS. Under his leadership, the agency grew in size, stature, and reach, with innovative and award-winning programs that are modeled around the globe. His success is the result of his commitment to the work of the agency as well as his intelligence, creativity, and engaging personality.

Sy's vision extended from the internal operations of the organization, where he strove to create an open management style, apply business principles, implement sophisticated financial systems, and increase revenue and fundraising, to the mission and reputation of the agency both in Greater Boston and around the globe. During his tenure the agency's annual budget grew from $6.5 to $28 million, staff increased from 100 to 700, and the number of programs more than doubled.

"I wanted to transform JF&CS from an agency into an institution with expertise, unique innovative models, visibility, and prestige. My guiding principle was to make this a unique place," Sy said.

Alan Geismer, JF&CS Board President from 1993 to 1996, hired Sy as interim director during a period of turmoil and low morale within the agency. After being named Executive Director the following year, Sy moved quickly to improve and expand the organization's offerings and practices.

"Sy took over the agency when it was in transition. He guided it. He had a vision that it was capable of a lot more in terms of growth and partnerships than it had been accustomed to. He set about doing that in a way that was very self-effacing and very effective," Alan said.

Sy described JF&CS in 1993 as "a traditional family service organization focused on counseling and mental health." He worked to expand the agency's role into other arenas, developing collaborative and community-based models that were "strength-oriented rather than pathology-oriented."

He oversaw the development of many award-winning and pioneering programs including the Center for Early Relationship Support® (CERS), Family Table, Journey to Safety, Jewish Healing Connections, Chaverim Shel Shalom, Geriatric Institute, Parkinson's Family Support, and CHAI's first supported living residence.

Through an emphasis on research, publishing, and partnerships, programs like CERS and the Geriatric Institute were able to share their innovative programming and research findings with professionals from around the world.

Throughout his career, Sy emphasized a sense of responsiveness to the community. "At JF&CS we screen in, we don't screen out. If a need develops, we find the money, rather than saying we don't do that work," he said.

He translated this same responsiveness to his management of the organization, building a culture of transparency and caring that embodied the agency's mission. "I wanted the same values we portrayed to the outside world to be true internally. If a staff person is having difficulties we try to help them."

This culture was vividly demonstrated during a site visit by the Council on Accreditation for Child and Family Services (COA) as visitors met with JF&CS managers to assess the agency. When staff members were asked ‘What is it like to work here?' they began by describing their love for the work and for the opportunity to help people, then quickly shifted to talking about how the organization was there for them when they had personal issues. "By the end of the meeting everyone was in tears, including the [COA] visitors," said Sy.

Over the years, Sy built strong relationships with staff, board members, donors, and volunteers, developing a reputation as a humane leader and often referred to as a mensch. He is grateful for the support of the JF&CS community. "We place our reputation on high touch; individualized, comprehensive, innovative services; and attract supporters who are sympathetic to that notion. It's an organization where volunteers are essential. We have a very active board that does a tremendous amount of work. And we live in a community where people are happy to give their expertise," he said.

Donna Magnasco, Director of Human Resources, has worked with Sy since his first days at the agency. "I liked him the minute he walked through the door. He was friendly, smart, and very personable. Sy is easy to talk to and has a great sense of humor. The agency flourished under his watch," she said. "His belief in tikkun olam became evident very early in his time at JF&CS. It is this very quality that has made me proud to work here under his strong and caring leadership."

Rimma Zelfand, JF&CS Senior Vice President of Programs, will succeed Sy as CEO. Rimma has worked with JF&CS since 2003, when she became a member of the JF&CS Board and the Strategic Planning Committee, then joined JF&CS as Director of Senior Services in 2004. In 2008 she was promoted to Senior Vice President of Programs. Prior to JF&CS, Rimma led and managed home care, home health, disease management, and elder care programs.

Sy is looking forward to having time for photography and cooking and "trying new adventures." All those here at the agency and throughout the community extend a heartfelt thank you and best wishes for a happy retirement.

As Sy always says at every going away party, you never really leave JF&CS.

The Sy Friedland Fund
JF&CS has established the Sy Friedland Fund to honor Sy's legacy of dynamic leadership, innovative thinking, and strong commitment to the mission, values, and traditions of JF&CS. This fund will support the agency's cutting-edge programming and strategic initiatives. For more information, please contact Lauren Dorn-Jones at ldjones@jfcsboston.org or 718-647-JFCS (5327).