Room to move — JVS unpacking as agency settles into bigger downtown headquarters

It was one helluva welcome wagon.

When Jewish Vocational Services moved into its bigger and swankier downtown San Francisco headquarters this week, there was a windfall waiting: 60,000 square feet of good-as-new office furniture, including ergonomic chairs, desks, conference tables and file drawers. Everything but the coffeemaker and Ziggy comics.

How did JVS get so lucky? The architects designing the office had another client eager to unload the stuff. It all came down to a simple coin toss between JVS and another worthy organization.

JVS Executive Director Abby Snay called heads.

But it’s about more than just new stuff.

“The new space is giving us a sense of a fresh start,” says Snay. “This is our 30th anniversary, so we’re starting our fourth decade in a new home.”

The move was needed because JVS had outgrown its previous offices at 77 Geary St. Dramatically increased client services, from computer training to ESL classes, meant the 75-person JVS staff had been feeling cramped.

Now everyone’s together in the 21,000-square-foot space at 225 Bush St. (a few floors down from j.). Five classrooms, two computer labs, multiple conference rooms and banks of private offices give the new JVS the sleek feel of corporate America.

That’s no coincidence, since JVS is all about hooking up with corporate America. Last year, the agency placed more than 2,000 clients, and provided job training for more than 1,200 immigrants and refugees.

In recent years, with the dot-com bubble bursting and regionwide recession, JVS’ services have proved more crucial than ever, according to Snay.

“Many Jewish professionals lost their jobs,” she reports. “We’ve had classes and workshops at the executive level.”

That mirrors what JVS has done for entry-level workers as well. Initially, the goal was to provide job assistance for the Jewish community, but it quickly expanded to become a resource for the community at large.

Snay sees JVS as “the face of the Jewish community,” and feels the agency “fulfills the core Jewish values of tzedakah and tikkun olam.”

Even if most of her clients have never heard a word of Hebrew.

Clients come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. All receive training in specific trades (like computers) and what Snay calls “the soft skills,” such as writing resumes, developing positive work attitudes, and even pre-testing bus routes so as to arrive on time for a job interview.

When Snay first joined JVS in the 1970s, there were only five staffers. The influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union, as well as dramatic increases in programming and partnerships with the local business community, not only expanded the JVS client base, it swelled the payroll as well.

Not a problem for JVS, which reported an operating budget of more than $5 million for fiscal year 2002-2003. Funding sources include the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, government and foundation grants, and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

And with the new facility up and running, Snay hopes the coming years will mark a return to boom times for the job market and for JVS.

“We’ll be training,” she says, “day in and day out.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.