Amy Shapiro has been actively involved in education for many years, whether it’s been as a tutor at Beth El Synagogue, or in her roles at Achieve Minneapolis, where she’s helping make a difference in the students’ lives. Shapiro talks about that work and her passion for volunteering in the Jewish community in this week’s Who The Folk?!
You do a lot in the Jewish community. How do you find the time?
I make time for the things that are important to me. I think about my values and what’s important. I’ve got the same number of hours in the day as everyone else, and I make time for it.
How did you first get involved in NCJW?
I have family that’s been involved for years. My grandma’s a member, my aunts, my mom. I always grew up hearing about and then I decided to explore it. My aunt actually bought me a lifetime membership, so I decided to learn more about the organization.
What is it about the mission that makes it an organization worthy of your time?
I think the work we’re doing there is so important in today’s world. The mission and using my Jewish values to inform the change I want to make in the world is a great way to connect.
I’m also very involved at Beth El. I’m involved in a lot of different organizations. At Beth El I serve on the board of directors. In the past, I was the co-chair of the young adult program and one of the founding volunteers to launch our whole Young Adult program at Beth El Synagogue with Rabbi Avi Olitzky. I did a lot of that work for five or six years. I’m really passionate about community building. I’m on various other committees.
So you grew up at Beth El?
I did. I’m a fourth generation Beth El member. I always tell people I consciously choose it for my home. Every time I’m there it reaffirms that’s where I want to be.
Tell me about what you do at Achieve Minneapolis?
We’re the strategic non-profit partner of the Minneapolis Public Schools. Our organization is pretty complex: We fundraise for the strategic priorities of the school district, and we also run our programs, which are career and college readiness programs. I am the manager of our graduation coaches program, which is a mentoring program for high school students in Minneapolis Public Schools.
That’s really cool. Did you want to be a teacher or is your background in education?
I did not start as a teacher, however, my background is in education. Starting back when I was still in high school and was a Saturday morning Tarbut teacher at Beth El and I was always a tutor there. I spent many summers working at Herzl Camp and working with kids, particularly teenagers; young adults have always been a passion of mine. I went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was in the journalism school. I did a fellowship with Hillel at Cornell University and I fell in love with that and working with college students. Through some serendipity, I found my way to the organization I’m at today, and I’ve spent the last 10 years there in a variety of roles.
What do you see as some of the big challenges for Minneapolis Public Schools based on what you’ve seen?
The Twin Cities continue to be a very segregated area. Working in my job, I have been able to work with so many amazing students and teachers, and have been able to have the privilege to see all the amazing assets the city of Minneapolis has and that the youth of Minneapolis has. We continue to face huge opportunity gaps both in education and the workforce, and something I’m really passionate about is closing those gaps.
Does Achieve Minneapolis help close the gaps?
Definitely. Finally, people are waking up to the gaps that exist. Our organization does a lot of work on those gaps. My program is a mentoring program where I bring in about 140 community volunteers that come in and mentor high school students in MPS. It’s all about relationships. I’m a very relationship-based person, and I get to work in relationships in my job and outside. The foundation is bringing in a caring adult. 1 in 3 children or young adults will grow up without a mentor in the U.S. There’s a huge mentoring gap. A mentor can be a lot of different things. A lot of people think a mentor is some to give advice. I think a mentor isn’t someone who just gives advice but is a deep listener, asks the right question and holds space. Just a constant caring adult is really the most amazing thing. There’s some really amazing research that it doesn’t matter how many adverse-life experiences a young person experiences if they have a consistent, stable, caring adult, it can buffer the trauma. It could be a teacher, coach, rabbi, priest, businessperson. Anyone coming in 4 hours a month can help
What do you look for in a coach?
We are really intentional about who we recruit to be a graduation coach. We have an amazingly diverse group: We have young alumni of Minneapolis Public Schools, retired professors, teachers and school psychologists; we have coaches representing 12 different industries everything from VP of accounting at a Fortune 500 companies. It’s an amazing group. We have a large percent of coaches of color, which is important that students see someone who looks like them.
What do you see as the big challenge with Minneapolis Public Schools?
I do believe in the Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I believe that individuals can make a change. I think education is an extremely important issue. There’s a lot about our education system in America that’s broken, and I think often times it gets overlooked by citizens or politicians. But it’s at the heart of everything. If we can invest in our children it can make a difference.
What are things that you see happening that’s making a difference?
One of the strengths of our community is volunteerism, both the culture in Minnesota and philanthropy. We should give time and money to organizations that we believe in. Reading up and becoming informed about the issues we face help. And more people should get involved in civic engagement and vote for the people who have the values you care about. Ask how people view education or transportation or the issues you care about.
Have you thought about running for office?
Do you have free time?
I do. I like to exercise at the JCC, and spend time with my family and friends.
Favorite Jewish food?
My nana’s banana cake. She made it for every birthday, every holiday, every everything.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
Passover. I love that it’s a home holiday, a family holiday. I love that it’s so accessible. People that wouldn’t step foot in a shul will celebrate it at home.