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Baby Steps: Practical Strategies for Attracting Families with Young Children Mark I. Rosen, Brandeis University Jodi Jarvis, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston Vivien Dean, North County San Diego PJ Library/Shalom Baby Presented at the URJ Biennial December 13, 2013

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Baby Steps: Practical Strategies for Attracting Families with Young Children

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Baby Steps:

Practical Strategies for Attracting

Families with Young Children

Mark I. Rosen, Brandeis University

Jodi Jarvis, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston

Vivien Dean, North County San Diego PJ Library/Shalom Baby

Presented at the URJ Biennial

December 13, 2013

San Diego, California

Overview of Today’s Presentation

Part 1: What Can We Learn From Research?

- Mark Rosen

Part 2: Best Principles for Reaching and Engaging Families with Young Children

  • Jodi Jarvis

    Part 3: Success in North County San Diego

    - Vivien Dean

Mark I. Rosen ▪ Brandeis University 2

Part 1: What Can We Learn From Research?

Two Essential Questions

  • What are the characteristics of Jewish families with young children, especially those who are not connected to the Jewish community?

  • What are they looking for, and what might attract them?

Are Parents Even Looking for Jewish Connections?

  • Parents with young children attending focus groups generally say that:

    • they are not looking for Jewish learning

    • they are not inclined to join congregations

  • However, they do say that they are looking for Jewish connections

Question From a Recent Survey of Chicago-Area Parents

Are you as connected to the Jewish community as you would like to be?

Families Who Were Not Synagogue Members Were Much More Likely to Be Looking For Connections


Families in Which the Oldest Child Is Under Two Were More Likely to Be Looking for Connections

Jewish Friendships Matter

  • Parents are strongly influenced by peers

  • Most parents learn about programs and institutions from their friends

  • Secular friendships will lead to secular choices

  • Jewish friendships lead to Jewish choices

  • For those who are not connected to the Jewish community, connections start with Jewish friendships

  • Connecting Jewish parents with each other should be a high priority

Survey Question

At this point in your life, are you looking to develop new friendships?

Three Out of Four Chicago-Area Parents WereLooking to Develop New Friendships


Families with Younger Children Were Even More Likely to Be Looking For New Friendships

Getting Families Connected:Some Practical Questions

  • To what extent are less-connected parents interested in attending Jewish programs rather than secular programs?

  • To what extent are less-connected parents comfortable attending programs at a synagogue?

Mark I. Rosen ▪ Brandeis University 13

Survey Question

If two programs were similar in content and offered at the same time, which would you prefer?

  • The program offered by a Jewish organization

  • The program offered by a secular organization

  • No preference

Sponsorship Preferences

Mark I. Rosen ▪ Brandeis University 15

Survey Question

If you could choose between attending a Jewish program at a public library or a synagogue, which would you prefer?

  • A public library

  • A synagogue

  • No preference

Venue Preferences

Mark I. Rosen ▪ Brandeis University 17

Getting Families Connected: The Challenge for Synagogues

  • For families who live within a reasonable drive, synagogues are a logical place to make new friends and connect to the community.

  • Families connect when there is reasonable fit between a particular family and a synagogue’s membership, clergy, programming, and denomination.

  • Fit is less likely to exist when a synagogue has mostly older members, or when it doesn’t have programs for young families that help them to connect with each other.

    • “Our synagogue does not have a ton of active families with young children.”

    • “At my synagogue there are not a lot of parents close in age to me. It would be nice to find more young families.”

    • “I think it would help if our synagogue had a moms and tots program so I could meet more of the people in our synagogue.”

Part 2: Best Principles for Reaching and Engaging Families with Young Children

Overview of Best Principles

  • AwarenessWho are the parents/ families in your community? What do they want? What is the competition? Get the word out!

  • Be Welcoming and Inclusive People, spaces, places, program content, marketing, mission versus membership

  • Making Connections Relationships, building community, the right staff person, support of professional and lay leaders

  • Engagement Efforts Programming experiences – Who, What, When, and Where?

  • Strengthen Collaborate and evaluate – Who? What? How?


  • Who are the parents/ families in your community?

  • What do they want?

    • Meet people, high quality, easy-access, low-cost experiences

  • What is the competition?

  • Find out which local institutions offers local programs that are popular and well attended

  • Businesses that cater to families with young children

  • Nonprofits such libraries and local parenting organizations

  • Music, yoga, art, sports, etc.

  • What do local programs cost?

  • Get the word out!

  • How do local parents learn about programs?

  • Peers, internet, websites, social media, etc.

  • Be sure your lay leaders and professional staff are aware of and supporting your efforts

Be Welcoming and Inclusive

  • Understand the diverse range of families

  • Interfaith, GLBTQ, single, working, multi-cultural, bi-racial, all abilities, ages and stages, food allergies

  • Be sure that staff and lay leaders know about your experiences, who they are geared for, and that everyone is welcome

  • Do your online and print materials reflect a welcome and inclusive experience?

  • Do you offer easy access and low barrier content, without certain Jewish knowledge expectations, opportunities to learn and/or reinforce?

Be Welcoming and Inclusive

  • Are your spaces and places accessible, age-appropriate, safe, comfortable?

    • Playspace, baby and toddler zone, toys and materials, food sensitivities

  • Include/invite staff, lay leaders, teens to help

  • Mission versus Membership

    • Invest in families engaging Jewish life and our Jewish community first

    • Think of the process as similar to dating… feelings grow stronger over time after a series of positive experiences… it takes awhile to make a commitment

    • If you build it (community) they will come (and join, eventually)

Making Connections

  • It’s all about RELATIONSHIPS!

  • Parents, families and children (parents first!)

  • Jewish role models – use them in your experiences

  • Rabbis and cantors

  • Jewish educators

  • Other parents who are living a Jewish life

  • The RIGHT Staff person – FwYC outreach and engagement coordinator

  • Warm, friendly, welcoming, inclusive

  • Understands families (parents, families and children)

  • Outreach and social media skills

  • Does not need to be a Jewish educator since programming is low barrier, easy access

  • Works well with and complements other staff (clergy, educators)

  • NOT the early childhood director

Making Connections

  • Identify experienced program leaders in the community for special events, but not all (otherwise you create a following for them, not your program or organization)

  • You don’t just want to provide Jewish experiences, you want to create a community of families who find a home at your congregation

  • Connect with your lay leaders and other programs and arms to align and gain support

Engagement Efforts

  • Create low-barrier, easy-access, low or no cost experiences so that everyone feels comfortable regardless of their level of Jewish knowledge

  • Recognize that some parents are self-conscious about their Jewish knowledge – uphold their sense of dignity

  • Opportunities to learn and to reinforce

  • Consider timing of events to meet families needs

  • Work, bedtime, naptime, meals, etc.

  • Reality check – they will be doing secular activities on Shabbat

  • Activities are easy, do not require complete parental support (they want to talk with each other), teens are an option

Engagement Efforts

  • Target experiences for very specific ages - different types are effective at different stages of a child’s growth

  • Welcome Baby! – free gift and home visit for parents of newborns

  • Playgroups for parents of infants

  • Tot Shabbat, holiday, music, social action, Torah stories programs for parents of toddlers

  • Parents alone, families, children alone, combined experiences

  • Offer experiences in and out of your synagogue walls for those who may not be comfortable at first in a Jewish setting, remember Judaism can be celebrated everywhere!

  • Offer opportunities to socialize, schmooze, good food!

  • Offer volunteer opportunities that are easy, realistic and manageable

  • Collaborate with other events to integrate FwYC, not just in isolation

Strengthen – Collaborate, Evaluate

  • If you collaborate with other local congregations or organizations (preschools, JCC, etc.) , parents will be exposed to a broader range of options, and it will be more likely that they will find a place that appeals to their Jewish sensibilities and needs

  • The goal is get families involved in Jewish life … wherever they are most comfortable; the right fit is important to both parties

  • Learn, Design, Observe, Evaluate

  • Learn more, Redesign, Observe, Re-evaluate

Jodi Jarvis – Combined Jewish Philanthropies 28

Part 3: Success In North County San Diego

Shalom Baby and PJ Library Practicesin North County San Diego

  • Outreach – collaborating with secular and Jewish partners

  • Utilizing resources that families use:

    • Facebook, Twitter, etc.

    • Work with community partners to advertise innewsletters or websites

  • Programming – think out of the box!

  • Use of appealing public spaces:

    • Bookstores, community centers, theatres, supermarkets, public libraries, coffee houses, etc.

Shalom Baby and PJ Library: The Facts

  • Established in January 2001

  • Welcomed over 3,000 babies born to Jewish and interfaith families

  • Six new playgroups formed each year

    • Groups formed among parents who have had a new baby within two month period

  • Concierge services

    • Approximately 60 contacts per day

  • Currently over 2,100 PJ Library subscriptions

Shalom Baby and PJ Library: Best Efforts

  • Shalom Baby playgroups

  • PJ Library story time at local libraries

  • Community celebration for Jewish holidays

  • Collaboration with other Jewish agencies

  • Concierge services

Opportunities and Challenges

  • Questions, thoughts, comments, your story…

  • Resources:

    • Powerpoint will be available for participants

    • Engaging Families with Young Children in Jewish Life: A Guide for Synagogues (2013, CJP)

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