Staff and Volunteer Spotlight

Staff and Volunteer Spotlight

Emma Howitt: Jewish Family Service Therapist

What is your role and what do you do at Shalom Austin?
In my role as a therapist with Jewish Family Service, I provide counseling for individuals and couples dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, relationships and life transitions. I also facilitate a variety of workshops and education programs like the Mood and Mindfulness workshop, where my goal is to help people incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives.

What is your background and what brought you to Shalom Austin?
I am originally from Houston. I earned my bachelor’s degree at Texas State University and my master’s at Yeshiva University. Before Shalom Austin, I worked at several non-profit behavioral health agencies in the Austin area. Close to three years ago, I saw there was a job opening at Jewish Family Service and I jumped at the chance to serve my community.

What do you feel has been your most rewarding experience so far?
After Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston Jewish community last fall, JFS Houston requested clinical support from neighboring Jewish Family Service agencies. I spent an incredibly rewarding week working with their team to provide resources and support to hurricane victims. It was so powerful for me to be part of the healing process for my hometown.

What is your favorite part about working here?
I love that Shalom Austin offers so many avenues for total wellness. The programming available through Jewish Family Service and Shalom Austin really works to meet the needs from baby to bubbe.

Describe any exciting programs or projects in the works?
On Dec. 10, Jewish Family Service is hosting a community event called Experience, Strength, and Hope: Stories of Jewish Recovery. The event is meant to reduce the stigma about substance abuse recovery and grow awareness that these issues occur in every community. Anyone is welcome to come get inspired by the stories of community members in recovery. You don’t have to be personally affected by substance abuse to attend this event. In addition to our community speakers, Rabbi Daniel Millner of Congregation Tiferet Israel will be discussing substance abuse and recovery through a Jewish lens.
I’m also really excited to partner with Shalom Families to provide a supportive social group for new parents called Shalom Village. Beginning in January, Shalom Village will be a way for new parents to learn together, go through “first times” together, and build a community of new friendship.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about getting involved with Shalom Austin?
Don’t hesitate because there’s a place for everyone to be involved with Shalom Austin!

Seth Halpern: Shalom Austin Volunteer

What is your role at Shalom Austin?
There are two main ways I'm involved with Shalom Austin right now. First, as part the fundraising committee for the Generations campaign, and second, as a member of the Shalom Austin Board of Directors.

What made you decide to become a Shalom Austin volunteer?
I initially volunteered more than 10 years ago. We'd just moved to Austin and volunteering seemed like a great way to meet people and build a stronger personal and professional network in Austin. Since then I've found numerous interesting and impactful ways to be involved.

Why is volunteering important to you?
At this point, I feel very committed to the success of Shalom Austin and want to see the organization thrive. The organization can have an impact on many levels, whether providing programs and events that my family can enjoy, strengthening Jewish life in Austin by bringing together our growing Jewish community, or by helping to maintain a strong foundation of Judaism globally as I see ways that we interconnect with other Jewish communities.
Beyond that, I've met and become friends with many staff members and volunteers. At a basic level I just like the people I'm involved with and that makes it easy to stay involved.

What is your background?
I grew up mostly in the Detroit suburbs as a member of Temple Beth El. One of my grandfathers was actively involved in multiple Jewish organizations in New Jersey and my other grandfather was actively involved in the religious community in Brooklyn. My wife, Lauren, has done volunteer work in many areas for as long as I can remember and she inadvertently has a big influence on me. My professional life has taken me from Washington D.C. to Chicago to the San Francisco Bay area to Austin. While I've done some intermittent volunteering work along the way, my involvement with Shalom Austin has been far and away the highest level of involvement to date. After an early chapter in banking, I've spent the last 15 years in a variety of roles for a number of technology companies. I've found many ways to apply my professional experiences to my volunteer roles.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about getting involved with Shalom Austin?
Find some way—it can be small—to get involved. Ideally there's a natural way to dip your toe in the pool. From there you'll learn more about other ways to get involved if you're interested. It is a really exciting time to be involved - the organization has a strong and personable executive team, Generations will take our campus to the net level, and the Austin Jewish community should continue to grow for years to come. ■

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