Program puts hearts in appropriate places

She underwent an interview with the Volunteer Placement Project at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. Soon after, she was hooked into "Back On Track," an after-school tutorial program for inner-city kids.

Co-sponsored by San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El and the Third Baptist Church, Back On Track requires volunteers to build one-on-one relationships with children by helping them with homework and building other academic skills.

Katz is one of numerous people who have used the Volunteer Placement Project, which is part of JCF's Jewish Community Information & Referral. The project connects prospective volunteers with jobs in local Jewish agencies and organizations.

According to project director Gail Green, the federation launched the service in 1991 in response to a demographic study of Bay Area Jews. The study indicated a correlation between volunteering in the Jewish community and greater involvement in other aspects of Jewish life.

Green, who also heads JCI&R — a free, confidential telephone service providing information on Jewish subjects — said more than 80 people have been interviewed and referred to agencies since last summer.

Among them was Katz, who like many single "twentysomethings" is busy building a career and has little free time.

That's why it is important to Katz, a San Franciscan who works in finance, to spend what spare time she has volunteering for projects she feels have the power to make a difference.

"I believe in this program," she said.

With Back On Track, she spends 1-1/2 hours each week helping a 13-year-old student learn algebra. She also attends tutor orientation and follow-up workshops held monthly at the church.

Volunteering isn't new to Katz, who previously assisted Pets Are Wonderful Support, an organization dedicated to helping people with AIDS care for their animals.

Rabbi Sydney Mintz, an assistant rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El and a co-coordinator of the Back On Track, said about 150 volunteers tutor 161 students through the program.

"We founded Back On Track in 1988 with the church as a way of speaking out against racial and ethnic violence. Since then the program has just taken off," Mintz said.

Katz plans to continue her work with Back on Track for as long as she can.

"Now's the time to volunteer, before I get married, have kids and have even less time."