Jeffrey Savit, the new CEO of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Boston, likes to say, “The agency is in our family DNA.” After all, during his more than two-decade association with JBBBS, which began on the board of the esteemed institution, Savit met his wife, Lori, through a fellow board member. Lori has had her own history with JBBBS as a volunteer in the organization’s One to One mentoring program and its Friend 2 Friend program for adults with disabilities. His older daughter was a “Little Sister” who still keeps in touch with her “Big Sister.” Savit recently told JewishBoston that taking the reins at JBBBS, which is celebrating its centennial year, was like coming home “to a place I fell in love with more than 25 years ago.”
Savit credits his involvement with JBBBS—he also chaired the board and its endowment board for the past two decades—with giving him critical exposure to the helping professions and their essential role in Jewish communal life. “JBBBS changed the trajectory of my life,” he said. The New Bedford native and Harvard graduate began his career as a trust and estates attorney. However, after almost two decades of practicing law and holding various leadership positions at JBBBS and JCC Greater Boston, Savit had an epiphany. “I loved my night-time jobs [as a lay leader] more than my day job,” he said. “That was when I knew I needed to have a more meaningful professional life.”
To make his career change, Savit went back to school in 2006 to earn his master’s degree in social work. His first post-graduate job was as a geriatric social worker at Hebrew SeniorLife. After four years at HSL, Savit went on to explore the Jewish communal world more fully. His next stop was in Providence, Rhode Island, as the CEO and president of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, a merger of the federation, the Jewish Community Center and Board of Jewish Education. After six fulfilling years in Providence, he stepped down to become the chief development officer for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools. Savit, an advocate of Jewish education, sent both his daughters to day schools.
Reflecting on his various jobs as a Jewish professional, Savit noted that he “developed intense personal and professional relationships. Everyone I met cared so much and was so mission-driven. It’s not a surprise that my colleagues at JBBBS are also a caring and compassionate group. They value helping the vulnerable, as well as children and adults with disabilities.”
Savit described the JBBBS approach to providing its services as “holistic.” He added: “It’s not just limited to matching clients with volunteers. Everyone gets involved, including parents, siblings and the volunteers themselves. There is nothing transactional about what is happening at our agency. We mentor children in need and befriend adults in the community with disabilities.”
As Savit observed, not many institutions or individuals reach the venerable age of 100. He is honored to begin his tenure as JBBBS CEO during this special year. He is already planning to “enhance all the things we’ve done for the first 100 years in order to make our mark in our second century. We’ll do it by taking it one child and one adult at a time. We live in such a great community. If we harness all of our ingenuity, the sky is the limit.”
Among Savit’s long-term goals is to raise the agency’s profile. “I’ve always felt that JBBBS has been one of the hidden jewels in the Jewish community,” he said. “People who know our agency embrace it wholeheartedly. But it’s not as well-known as it should be.” Savit hopes to expand the JBBBS reach beyond the Boston MetroWest area. To that end, he sees a place for JBBBS on the South and North shores. However, he observed that kind of growth only comes with more volunteers and funding to support a larger infrastructure.
In the meantime, JBBBS is immediately investing in two new initiatives. Savit reported that the agency has received seed money to extend its services to the LGBTQ community. The program includes training clinical specialists and mentoring participants. “To my knowledge,” said Savit, “it’s the first such initiative in our community. We’re aiming to be inclusive and acting affirmatively. We’re partnering with schools and agencies.”
Savit also pointed out that JBBBS is starting a new college-level mentoring program. The initiative is on par with the camp and scholarships the agency already awards. “It’s one thing to help our former ‘littles’ with tuition and books, but there is a huge need to help our kids emotionally,” he said.
Savit’s love and enthusiasm for JBBBS are palpable. “We have the greatest product in the world, and we’re helping children and adults,” he said. “All of our clients need compassion and a human connection. It’s important to me to be a champion for the vulnerable. This is my passion and a logical extension of everything I value.”