30 Years…And Just Getting Started

by Jennifer Phillips, Keshet CEO & President

I am beyond overwhelmed and grateful for this amazing honor. I am truly touched. Thank you so much. 

30 years at Keshet… But, all of this really started for me way before then.

The summer when I was 10 years-old, like many of you, I went to the Mayer Kaplan JCC Day Camp. In my group, were twins. One sister was really social and outgoing with tons of friends. The other sister was quiet, timid and always sat outside of the circle. 

It bothered me…really bothered me that there was this girl in my group who was on the outskirts even though I could tell that she wanted to be part of what was going on. So, I made it my mission to make sure that she was included. I saved her a space at lunch, partnered with her for games and invited her to swim with us.

When I was a kid and long before inclusion was trendy, I had a desire to see that no one left out. Then, when I was 21, I walked into my first day as a camp counselor with Keshet. That summer, I met Rebecca, Adam, Noah, Justin, Sarah, Ira, Marissa, Avi and Mike and I discovered that I could make a career of ensuring that everyone is included and everyone is part of the circle. 

My life changed that day and continued to grow as my professional life evolved with Keshet. With each year and in each position, I held, I had dreams and hopes of what Keshet could become: a Board of Education-approved school, a leader in Jewish camp inclusion, not just locally, but globally, a place for adults to have friends, purposeful lives and a meaningful place in the community, and that we would grow while remaining true to our roots by leading from the heart and remaining family-focused.

Along the way, I have learned that everything is a work in progress. And, once you think you’ve reached a goal, another one sprouts from it. Keshet really is forever growing. So much has been accomplished in 30 years, but this is far from my end.

In fact, I know it is just the midpoint. There’s no mid-career life crisis in my story. I have never been more focused, more passionate and more excited about what Keshet has the potential to achieve and what we are about to do.

Looking ahead, my vision includes:

  • Making sure that everything we do establishes Keshet as an organization that is here to stay, forever and for a lifetime for families. 
  • Becoming an organization for people with and without disabilities. I know that our programs, camps and classes can be for everyone.
  • Building a Keshet community center—a building, a home, a space that is ours and the community’s. 

For many years I have had a dream of a home for Keshet. As many of you already know this dream of a community center is no longer just a dream. It’s happening. And because of many people in this room and within our larger community, it’s happening sooner than I ever imagined possible. 

It’s been a secret for a while, and while we’re still in the quiet phase of our capital campaign, it is my honor to share with you that Keshet’s new home and headquarters will be at 799 Central in Highland Park.

If we haven’t had a chance to speak with you personally, we invite you to join us for a conversation about this momentous milestone in our future. Thanks to many of you in this room, we’re close to 80% of the way toward our goal. I’m excited to share more information with you about how everyone can get involved with these plans in the months ahead. You will reveal the power of what “One Community” can do, and we can’t wait to invite all of you to our One Community Campaign groundbreaking as soon as we get a bit closer to our goal.

When I picture the community center in my mind, it is filled with the people who have shaped my Keshet experience in ways they don’t even know.  When I think back to that first summer when I met the Meyers’, Turner’s, Klass’, Tanenberg’s, Bronfeld’s, Zellinger’s, Metrick’s, Lesser’s, Coe’s, I would’ve never imagined that you would become my family and that we would all still be a part of of this forever growing Keshet family today. 

I am immensely thankful for the numerous staff members I’ve had the privilege to meet throughout my journey with Keshet. They have truly become integral members of our Keshet family and have played a vital role in shaping Keshet into the organization it is today.

Once you walk into our Keshet community you become a lifer, whether you know it or not.  Just thinking about what is in store for Keshet’s future is all I’ve dreamed of and so much more. And I have all of you to thank for joining me on this journey of a lifetime… 

There are my former students and campers, the kids in the choir, the adults who text me good night, the baseball players who never want the season to end, and the residents who have all become a family. Thank you for giving me so much. You make me want to be the best I can be.    

One last thing, for 30 years, there has been one person who has been part of this journey with me who never gets enough recognition for having a wife who is also married to her job. My husband, Scott, and my boys, Jacob and Ben. Thank you for loving Keshet as much as I do. 

As I always say, “Let’s do this!” With this mantra in mind, Keshet will continue to dream big and strive for even greater heights. I am filled with anticipation to witness the incredible journey that lies ahead for Keshet in the next 30 years. Thank you all for being a part of this remarkable adventure. Let’s continue to inspire, innovate, and make a difference together. Let’s do this, Keshet!

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