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Jewish Journal

Vocational Service Gains Career Center

by Marc Ballon

April 29, 2004 | 8:00 pm

To Vivian Seigel, Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) is a living, breathing entity that must grow with the times or risk irrelevance. That's why the organization she heads announced in April that it had acquired a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that, like JVS, provides an array of counseling services to a nonsectarian population.

In the process, JVS will expand its client base to 24,000 from 14,000. It will also add five new locations in the area, including Marina del Rey and Antelope Valley, bringing its total to 16 centers.

Career Planning Center (CPC), which has an annual budget of more than $4 million, will be managed by JVS and led by JVS chief executive Seigel but remain autonomous. The alliance follows the announced retirement of CPC founder and CEO Eleanor Hoskins, who wanted to ensure CPC's survival by joining forces with JVS.

"This enhances the availability of career and employment services to members of the community, including businesses," said Seigel, a 49-year-old mother of two. "Our services complement and enhance one another."

No Federation money will go toward supporting CPC, which is funded by government agencies, Seigel said. Negotiations between the two groups lasted for about six months, she added.

Change has been a constant at JVS since Seigel assumed the top spot in 1996. At the time, the agency had 45 staff people, a budget of $1 million and helped about 5,000 people annually with career planning, job searches and other services. Post-acquisition, JVS and CPC will have a combined staff of 125 and a $9.5 million budget.

Seigel, who first joined JVS in 1977 as a rehabilitation therapist, said she has worked hard to make sure her agency met the needs of all the community. With nearly 60 percent of its clients now coming from the ranks of middle management and above, the agency has rolled out several initiatives in recent years administering to the casualties of the new economy.

To help promising nascent businesses succeed, JVS recently partnered with the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) to create the Microenterprise Loan Program. Employees of JVS will help entrepreneurs draft business plans and give them marketing and technical counseling to increase their chances of landing a JFLA loan of up to $20,000. The goal: Help small companies become bigger companies that employ lots of people and fuel the local economy, Finkel said.

Mark Meltzer, JFLA executive director, said Seigel's professionalism, intelligence and good relationship with her board and the community at large have helped her "come up through the ranks and build the agency beautifully."

Working closely with Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, Seigel has received a $100,000 funding commitment this year from the city. Weiss said he is a big fan of Seigel and the agency she runs.

"JVS is important because it's not a handout," the councilman said. "It's a hand up."

Weiss should know. One of his "most successful" staff members got her start in elective politics through a JVS program.

Fortuna Benudiz Ippoliti, a Weiss field deputy at his Sherman Oaks office, said she decided in 2000 to re-enter the workforce after an absence of more than a decade. Failing to land a good job on her own, the 52-year-old mother of two turned to JVS, which helped her polish her resume and gave her career counseling.

Ippoliti's enthusiasm and intellect led JVS to select her for the WoMentoring program, which, given her interest in politics, paired her with a City Council candidate. Ippoliti worked on the campaign for two months, doing everything from fundraising to planning events.

Although her candidate lost, Ippoliti said the political bug had bitten her. More important, she rediscovered her self-confidence thanks to her four months with JVS.

"I didn't know where to turn," Ippoliti said. "I was totally lost. I needed somebody to tell me to put this foot in front of that foot. That's what JVS did. They gave me direction. They held my hand. They gave me a hug. I don't know what I would have done without them."

After JVS, Ippoliti went back to school at CSUN after dropping out of college nearly 30 years earlier. Just before her second semester, she got a call from Weiss' then-chief of staff, whom Ippoliti had met years earlier. The chief of staff, impressed by Ippoliti's recent political experience, hired her as a field director, a job Ippoliti held while attending classes and raising two children.

In May, 2003, Ippoliti, a Sephardic Jew, graduated with high honors and delivered the commencement speech. She spoke about never giving up on one's dreams.

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