Gail Baer was raised in Bethesda, MD, where her family belonged to a Reform congregation in Washington, D.C. She went through Jewish education, had a bat mitzvah and belonged to a youth group. Her mother was politically active and would bring Gail along to events when appropriate.
Soviet Jewry was a big issue in the ’70s and ’80s, and her mother was very involved with that movement. “I remember being across the street from the Soviet embassy in D.C. protesting with her many mornings on the weekends,” says Gail. “I’m sure that influenced me wanting to improve the world and make things better for other people.”
Making things better for others is precisely what Gail has been doing for the majority of her professional career. When she moved to Arizona in 2005, she was part of the group that launched an advisory services program at Grant Thornton, a national accounting firm. “Our office was brand new to the Valley – no one knew who Grant Thornton was or what we did,” explains Gail. “Part of this effort was an attempt to get our name out – both for the individual leaders in the firm and the firm itself.”
Gail created a community relations program that contained three different approaches. First, to get the firm management and leaders involved philanthropically. To have them participate, on their own, on things they cared about, and also have the firm involved in different philanthropic efforts as a company. Second, to start a volunteer program to provide service opportunities for the employees. Finally, to create board service opportunities for the leadership.
As that program grew it became a significant part of Gail’s workload, and she found that she really enjoyed it. “United Way was one of the relationships that was created and grown through the Grant Thornton, CARES (Community Awareness and Responsibility Expressed by Service) effort,” explains Gail. She went to work for United Way in 2011 and lead the effort around new corporate partnerships.
“Many companies across the Valley run giving campaigns at certain times of the year,” says Gail. “Eventually, my job shifted to working with major individual donors. I went from the corporate side to the individual side.”
Then in May 2016, Gail joined Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Arizona as their associate vice president of philanthropic services. “I was a donor to JFCS long before, so I was familiar with the organization,” says Gail. “Ultimately what appealed to me was more personal. Working for a Jewish organization in a community when I already have deep relationships was such an easy sell. I love what JFCS does; we take care of the community; we take care of all people under a Jewish lens.”
In July 2017, Sojourner Center became an affiliated subsidiary of JFCS, allowing JFCS to offer a full gamut of services for individuals of domestic violence. Gail was part of the team that spearheaded that acquisition.
“JFCS has been in the domestic violence service arena for a number of years, and when this opportunity came up, it really helped fill the ‘circle of service’ completely for survivors of domestic violence,” says Gail. “JFCS has a Shelter Without Walls program that addresses the unmet needs of domestic violence survivors who are outside of a shelter setting. So the affiliation of the Sojourner Center enabled JFCS to provide a full continuum of care and a full complement of services to survivors within a shelter setting.”
JFCS serves both the Jewish community and the general community. In addition to the services for survivors of domestic violence, they serve foster care youth aging out of the system, and they offer behavioral health services across Maricopa County. “It’s all done in accordance with a Jewish value system,” explains Gail. “Those values remain the cornerstone of everything we do and every single one of our programs.”
Gail admits the best part about her job at JFCS are the relationships she is developing. “I get to work with incredible folks to help them achieve what they want to do,” she says. “It definitely helps our organization, but ultimately, I’m helping individuals achieve something that is very meaningful to them. There is no better gift than that.”
For more information on the services that JFCS offers, visit jfcsaz.org.