Table for Two: Lisa Jericho & Jennifer Gartenberg

Assistant Director of Development, Myah Blazar, sat down to lunch with Past President and Board Alum, Lisa Jericho, and Vice President of Programming and Current Board Member, Jennifer Gartenberg, to discuss the past and future of JCYS.

Myah Blazar: Thank you, Lisa and Jenny, for joining me for this interview. Let’s jump right in. Please share with me your current and past JCYS roles.

Lisa Jericho: I am a JCYS Board Alum and Past President of the agency.

Jennifer Gartenberg: I am currently the Vice President of Programming, last year I was Secretary and in 2013 I was the Gala Chair.

MB: Lisa, how were you introduced to JCYS?

LJ: After I finished my MBA, I was talking with my friend Laura Friedel about having more free time than I was sure what to do with and said she had a great idea of something for me to get involved with. She was correct. Little did we know that I would end up spending many more years and many more hours on the Board than I could have imagined.

MB: Jenny, how about you?

Jennifer Gartenberg, Vice President of Programming & Current Board Member (Left)
Lisa Jericho, Past President & Board Alum (Right)

JG: I actually went to the JCYS  Highland Park preschool in the 80’s so I always thought fondly of JCYS, Young Men’s at the time. I was at a friend’s engagement party where I was talking to fellow Board Member Tom Field, who I’ve known for a long time, and he encouraged me to join the Board. I attended my first meeting in early 2011.

MB: Did the two of you overlap board experiences?

LJ: Yes, we did overlap for a short period of time.

JG: And we’ve been friends since then.

LJ: I was a Past President when you joined the Board, Jenny.

MB: And how many women were on the Board at that time?

JG: I’d say there were less than five at that time.

LJ: Yes. We’ve had amazingly talented women join the Board but it has been a challenge to retain women and elevate them into long term leadership roles

JG: But, interestingly this year, and I think this might be a record, there are three women on the Executive Committee. No one could think of another time when there were more than three woman on the Executive Committee.

LJ: There was actually a time where there were three women on the Executive Committee. I believe that three is probably the maximum.

JG: Maybe next year we’ll have four.

LJ: There were years when I was the only woman in the room.

MB: Lisa, what was the general feel and structure of the board during your years?

LJ: Throughout my time on the Board, there was a lot of experimentation on how to make sure that the Board experience stayed interesting, relevant and challenging. There were years when the agency was in great financial shape where a majority of the focus was around programming and fundraising, gala in particular. And then there were years when the economy was so tight that we focused on finance and budget management. During those years, we made some really unfortunate and tough decisions in order to be sure that the agency remained healthy.

Each President puts their own fingerprint on Board Meetings and I think that committee activity has varied over that same time frame. It ebbs and flows with the changing times. The nice thing about the one year presidency is that it can change and reflect new ideas rapidly. The hard part is that it changes a lot.

JG: I definitely agree with Lisa. The last couple of years, the Board has made more hard decisions than fun decisions as far as  finances and personnel turnover. This has placed more responsibility on the Board until they could delegate those roles. The Capital Campaign and building the new Michael R. Lutz Family Center on North Avenue has posed lots of ups and downs. It’s exciting that we’re doing it and I’m confident it’s going to be a great facility.  As far as committees, I think a significant change between your time, Lisa, and the present is that there is now one Centers Committee which is something that I currently oversee. It’s nice for the members of that committee to talk about each and every center and compare what works and what doesn’t at various facilities. One of the initiatives this year, as a result of our strategic planning retreat this Fall at Camp, is to work with Center Directors to streamline the curriculum and expectations from center to center. Additionally, at a Central Office level, the processes have been streamlined which I believe is making the Centers’ branding more consistent.

MB: You both bring up some roles and responsibilities that sound pretty unique to JCYS. Would you have encountered these experiences elsewhere?

LJ: Absolutely not. This has been one of my challenges in my not-for-profit experiences after leaving the Board. We delved into some of the meatiest and most interesting topics and it’s very hard to find a Board experience that spans that depth and breadth of what we cover. And that doesn’t mean it’s better or worse.  It’s a very unique opportunity and it’s hard to find even a combination of things that match the JCYS Board experience.

JG: I was involved with other not-for-profits before JCYS and I’m involved in another now and they are shadows of the JCYS experience. It makes me appreciate how great the JCYS experience is and it has helped me excel in other environments. At another organization’s Board Meeting, you are an all-star because you know what it’s like to have a more substantive board experience. Also, unrelated to nonprofit work, it’s given me a lot of confidence in my career. Speaking in front of my peers at a JCYS Board Meeting has translated into more confidence when presenting in front of a client. This experience has helped me in many aspects of my life, not to mention, I’ve made really nice friends and built great relationships through the Board.

LJ: That’s for sure. I’ve also maintained these relationships. Most importantly, I know that I could reach out to anybody who I served with and that’s a great feeling. There is this common experience that is so unique. It’s special. I’m grateful to have it.

JG: There’s a legacy with JCYS. I’ve met people through very random circumstances who served on the Board or know someone who served on the Board, or sent their children to JCYS preschool. Past Board Members get so excited to hear about what’s going on currently.

LJ: I’d argue that our JCYS experience has influenced both of our professional paths.

JG: Yes, definitely!

LJ: Considering where you work now, Jenny, and the career change I’ve made, I don’t think it would’ve crossed my mind. I went from working in a corporate setting to working at a not-for-profit. This change probably would not have happened had I not had the experience I had at JCYS. Personally and professionally, it’s a much more fulfilling life that I have now and I’m grateful that all of these converged. And, Jenny, you had quite a change, too.

JG: I had a career change this past summer and I started working in Wealth Management at Mesirow. I met everyone under the sun for coffee when I was trying to figure out my next move. I was overwhelmed by how much the JCYS network made themselves available and tried to help me. The head of Investment Advisory at Mesirow is a former JCYS President so it all came full circle.

LJ: It was definitely more than just a board experience for both of us.

MB: Tell me a little bit about the JCYS Women’s Group.

JG: I’d say it’s an unofficial JCYS Ladies’ Group. It’s off the books! We get together a few times a year. We invite every woman we have on record who was a former Board Member or who is a current Board Member or Designate and we usually go for drinks in the Loop. It’s a nice outlet to speak with other professional women who are at different points in their careers… and we have fun!

LJ: When you’re part of an organization that originated under the name “Young Men’s” clearly the trend of women being included is on the newer side and so it is a more intimate group, based on the agency’s history. Thank you to all the men who did include us! I think we add a lot. But it also makes for a unique comradery amongst ourselves. The men are amazing too, I love being with them but it really is a unique subset of women who are so like-minded in professional experiences and otherwise.

MB: Lisa, how did it feel to be the third female President of JCYS?

LJ: It was a huge honor. And it’s really very much a credit to Phyllis Tabachnick who was the first. I’m probably not getting the story exactly right, but very early in our friendship, Phyllis decided I would be a JCYS President. I now follow her lead with my favorite women as well. I don’t think we, as women, bring anything very unique to the Presidency per say, but when you have a history as rich and as special as JCYS, it is an honor to be included in the amazingly talented group of individuals who has been a President of the agency. I had great mentorship and great coaching from both Alumni and Staff,  who looked at me and said ‘You can do this’. It was a nice confidence builder because I’m not sure if I alone would have made this decision. It was one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences that I have ever had in my life. I’m very grateful for all who encouraged it because I was definitely reluctant.

MB: Share with me your visions for the future of JCYS.

LJ: More women Presidents!

JG: Something that we’ve already started to do, just this year, which I think will be great for the future of JCYS, is that we are more conscious about recruiting a more diversified Board, not just with gender but also with professional backgrounds to try to bring additional perspectives. I’m excited about that.

LJ: I agree that diversity is a great strategy.

JG: As far as the future of the organization, in the short term, the Wicker Park/Bucktown Center  is going to be monumental and I think our continued effort to rebrand and centralize our services and hopefully make some updates to Camp are important. We are going to keep up with the times, and evolve and progress. We’re already doing that with how we’re looking at the big picture of the organization while maintaining the warmth and authenticity of the programs that we offer.

LJ: I think that in general, as an Alumni, it’s sort of a Catch 22. On one hand, I am willing and able and want to play an extremely active role. And yet, I absolutely understand that for it to remain so special, it has to evolve under new leadership. The key thing that I want the current Board to know is there are a lot of us who love the agency and are more than willing to help in whatever capacity that is needed. After 100 years, you just want to see it last 100 more. Hopefully JCYS will look different and it will continue to meet the needs of families around Chicago.

JG: I agree with Lisa that we have to do our own thing and answer to ourselves more than the Alumni base. However, I can say that when I joined the Board, not only was I young in terms of age, but I also felt young in terms of who was in the room. There were 20 people in the room who could have served as a mentor to me. The Board goes through phases and right now, all of a sudden,  people might look around the room and see me as one of the senior members, and I don’t feel that for myself! I’m still looking for those mentors and more experienced people around me.

LJ: And yet, I am completely confident she can help them just perfectly. But that’s a great role for Alumni to play- to be that mentor and means of encouragement. There were people who had more confidence in me than I had in myself and I probably have more confidence in Jenny than she has in herself and it all works itself out because she’s amazing.

JG: Thanks, Lisa.

LJ: And there are a lot of amazing people on the Board and collectively they do great things.

JG: People I would not have met any other way.

MB: What are three words that I come to mind when I say JCYS?

LJ: I don’t even know where to start! My extended family. Leadership.

JG: Rewarding and challenging are the two words that come to mine. It gives you a sense of purpose because it’s easy to go to your job every day, then you have your personal life, and it’s nice to have a third aspect of your daily routine that isn’t either of those things.

LJ: It provides a balance. I always looked at the world as a stool with three legs. Work is one of the legs, family is one of the legs, and what I do in the community is one of the legs. Balance is key to making the stool stand.