The Hillel Jewish Student Center at Arizona State University is one of 10 campus groups nationwide chosen to participate in the pilot year of Hillel International’s Excellence Accelerator program.

The Accelerator will provide increased resources designed to support Hillels on college campuses as they seek to achieve strategic goals to improve operations and increase engagement with Jewish students. It will focus on key areas, including developing effective leadership and governance within the campus Hillel; developing donor databases and strategic growth plans; assessing fiscal health and building a financial plan for the future; and aiding the measurement and collection of data to quantify successes. Each Hillel has their own work plan, based on the needs of their campus, said Debbie Yunker Kail, executive director of Hillel at ASU.

Each campus Hillel participating in the pilot program will have access to a campus consultant to work as a strategic partner with the local staff to coordinate a work plan to best position the Hillel for success. The program will also provide support from experts and the opportunity to collaborate and network with other Hillels investing in operational improvements.

This will give Hillel at ASU the guidance and resources to strengthen the organization’s infrastructure, “which is something that’s very important to us as we’re continuing to grow,” Kail said.

Kail estimates that there are about 3,500 Jewish students at ASU and said that the group has more than doubled its reach in the past two years. More than 100 students have attended Hillel events six or more times and more than 400 have come at least once this school year, as of January, she said.

The program, which Hillel applied to, requires lay leaders to be involved. At ASU, Wendy Carriere, Hillel board treasurer, and Sari Roth-Roemer, a board member, are working on the project, Kail said. Both are parents of freshmen at ASU and are “invested in how we’re growing,” she noted.

Hillel at ASU was also one of 20 Hillels across North America chosen last year to host the first cohort of Hillel International’s Springboard Fellows and through funds provided by Mosaic United, received a $25,000 grant for a Springboard Fellowship. In July 2016, Madeline Dolgin started as Hillel at ASU’s innovation specialist, a role focusing on freshmen engagement, Shabbat innovation and increasing opportunities for professional development/mentoring/career readiness.

Dolgin’s work is a huge reason why Hillel’s engagement numbers have gone up during this past school year, said Kail. “In January, we’re already higher than we were for all of last year.”

Dolgin, with assistance from an intern, coordinates programs to engage freshmen, such as a Shabbat dinner in the dorms or a lunch on campus. She also works on interfaith programming, such as a recent dinner with the Muslim Student Association, and teaches a class on Friday afternoons that covers various topics. She also created The Shmear Society, a social hour held weekly on both ASU’s Tempe campus and on the downtown Phoenix campus.

“The Excellence Accelerator is an important step in helping our Hillels improve Jewish student life on campus, no matter its size or level of funding,” said Eric D. Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International. “This new approach will streamline the process for providing much-needed resources to help campus Hillels do the important work of inspiring every Jewish student to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel.”

After the pilot year, Hillel International intends to expand the “Excellence Accelerator” to provide guidance to Hillels of all sizes in creating strategic plans for growth, according to a press release.

The other groups are the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, Hillel at Syracuse University, Hillel at the University of Rochester, Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis, Houston Hillel, Long Beach Hillel, Oregon Hillel Foundation, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign Hillel and University of Miami Hillel.

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