Don’t mistake her size for her stature in the Jewish Detroit community.
Standing tall at five-foot-one, Shaindle Braunstein loves shopping for shoes (the higher the heels, the better) along the career path she has taken to her role as Chief Administrative Officer at Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Metropolitan Detroit.
Self-described as “driven, strategic, sharp and highly caffeinated,” Shaindle greets the world with wide blue-eyed wonder, an easy smile and a quick wit that others describe as “Amy Poehler-esque.”
“I love that Google is a verb now,” she quips. “You can Google and learn just about anything today.”
With no direct healthcare experience, but an insatiable desire “to learn and to read, to ask and to listen to others,” Shaindle came to JFS in 2011 to lead Project Chessed, an innovative healthcare program that connected low-income, uninsured Jewish families with volunteer physician services and donated care through local hospitals.
As the Affordable Care Act reshaped the healthcare landscape in recent years, Shaindle led Project Chessed into a new era. The program shifted to a Health Care Navigation model under her leadership, helping more than 10,000 individuals from across the region access healthcare coverage over the last two years.
In her new role as Chief Administrative Officer at JFS, Shaindle takes on a broader range of responsibilities, overseeing finance, IT and strategic planning critical to the agency’s long-term success and sustainability.
Shaindle started her career in communications and production management for Crain’s Publications. Prior to joining JFS, she served for nearly nine years as Director of the David B. Hermelin ORT Resource Center, a program of World ORT, the world’s largest non-governmental education agency. With an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Wayne State University, Shaindle has recently earned an MBA from Walsh College.
A resident of West Bloomfield, Shaindle is married to Mendy Cohen. They are the proud parents of four: Shimmy, 20, now in Israel on a tour of duty with the IDF; Devora, 18, a freshman at Oakland, transferring in the fall to the School of Social Work at Wayne State University; Shira, 16, a junior at Oakland Early College; and Tsvi, also 16, a junior at West Bloomfield High School.
On a crisp Monday afternoon in January, Shaindle breaks from a full calendar to chat with myJewishDetroit on all things JFS, Jewish Detroit, community and family.
On Jewish family life and early influences
myJewishDetroit: How have your family experiences influenced your community outlook and your work?
Shaindle: I was born at Sinai Hospital in Detroit Michigan, grew up in Oak Park, went to Akiva Hebrew Day School, then to Wayne State University. I am deeply rooted and invested in the Jewish community here where I always have felt the close bonds of family and friendship.
My parents instilled in me the love of learning and I still hear my father’s voice in my head when I say to my children that all experiences are educational. There’s nothing in this world that you can’t learn from if you open yourself up to the opportunity.
As for early influences, I must give Gary and Malke Torgow credit as well. I grew up around the block from them and babysat for their children from the time I was 13 years old. I spent a lot of time in their home with their children, while they were in the next room holding community meetings or working on one community project or another. Being present in their home, even in the background, gave me the sense of what it meant to be building community.
In terms of other experiences that pulled me towards not-for-profit work, I think back on a part-time arrangement I had in 1999 working with Harlene Appleman at the Jewish Federation. I was working on the website and training educators in using technology, and Harlene was actually my first exposure to a woman in a leadership position in the Jewish community. It was Harlene who called me when the ORT position opened. I was working at a job I actually loved with an automotive magazine, but Harlene encouraged me, “Here’s your opportunity to build a program and shape it to your vision.” And, of course, I took the job.
On career moves
myJewishDetroit: Shaindle, you are well respected in the community as an accomplished Jewish professional – just hitting your stride in a top management position with JFS . . . what got you started on your path. Please describe what you’ve taken from each role, to build your career.
Shaindle: At ORT, I became involved in an organization called the “Independent Sector” with the focus on answering the question: what can not-for-profits and social entrepreneurs do to fill the vacuum that exists between what people need and what government can provide. That involvement set the stage for a pivotal experience for me. In 2010, I was invited to the American Express Non-Profit Leadership Academy. It was an intensive week in New York – something like a boot camp for social service organizations. Of the 20 people from around the country, I represented the only non-profit in Michigan, as well as the only Jewish organization.
It was exhilarating to be a part of that group, with exposure to American Express CEO, Kenneth I. Chenault, and other futurists. That experience crystallized for me the fact that the challenges we face in the not-for-profit sector are very much like those in the business sector. Change is the constant we all must learn to anticipate and manage.
This in turn led me to solidify my roots, not only in the not-for-profit community at large, but in the Jewish not-for profit space, and I’ve been continuing to move forward in this direction through my work at JFS.
On JFS now and moving ahead
When you look at the landscape of business and health care today, information technology is a huge driver. Organizations that are not evolving will not survive. Today, more than ever, we must gather not only the subjective information that we need to function, but also the objective, measurable data to get from point A to B, moving us forward to demonstrate how we meet our goals.
At JFS, we’ve just finished a strategic plan, based on the information we have today, to map out where we think our resources will be most needed in the future. My role is to be the “integrator” between the different JFS departments. That includes understanding finance, programming, client services, IT and our investments in resources to ensure we have the best, most cost-efficient infrastructure in place to meet the needs of the community.
myJewishDetroit: Where do you see those needs rising most critically?
It’s a balance, of course. The demographic of our population continues to age. We need to understand how the needs of our seniors are expanding and will continue to grow. And we need to be well-positioned to do more with potentially the same or fewer resources.
myJewishDetroit: On the other end of the scale, what programs and tools are in place to meet the growing needs of young people, particularly in light of the rising numbers in the diagnoses of ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and other mental illnesses?
JFS has counselors specifically equipped to work with youth and teens and focused on greater efforts toward identification of mental illness to help intervene prior to tragedy. We are, in fact, partnering with Federation’s Alliance for Jewish Education on a teen mental health conference on March 1.
Additionally, we recently received a grant for our Mental Health First Aid program which is allowing us to train those people who work with youth to be better equipped to identify the signs of mental illness. This will help ensure that those who need help receive it. We already have provided this training to some community professionals working with teens. We also are placing increased focus on suicide prevention. Early treatment is the key focus.
We also offer psychological testing services to the community to help families identify cognitive, developmental or psychological conditions in young members of our community so they can be treated effectively.
On Project Chessed
myJewishDetroit: Project Chessed has been well documented as a model program. Interestingly, it has yet to be duplicated. Why do you think that is the case?
You have to say there’s something in the water here. I think the difference is Detroit. A huge number of people who were willing to step up to the plate – from our physician community, our Federation, The Jewish Fund and the Sinai Medical Foundation – all worked together to make it happen. Detroit is unique. When you say you have a problem, people are not going to just give you lip service, they are prepared to do what needs to be done.
myJewishDetroit: What changes have you seen in Jewish Detroit over the recent years?
From my best recollection growing up here, I think that our community has become a far more integrated Jewish community where you have Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis and congregations working together. We’ve embraced our diversity now to become what is truly a unified Jewish community. That’s something we try to market to people thinking about relocating to the area from out of town. From West Bloomfield to Oak Park, we can show them beautiful neighborhoods with homes and Jewish Day Schools that people can actually afford without having to choose one over the other.
myJewishDetroit: What is your definition of a leader?
People often mistake leadership for power. I define leadership as responsibility. A leader’s responsibility is to empower others, to inspire their confidence, to guide their path or the way forward. Being a leader is very much about putting those who follow you first.
myJewishDetroit: Who is your definition of a mentor?
Patti Aaron. In working with Patti at ORT, I believe she was the epitome of what it means to mentor – and to do so in a completely selfless way. A mentor is someone who ultimately feels fulfilled through the accomplishments of the person they are mentoring. And this is absolutely true of Patti and our relationship.
On balancing family and professional life
Talking about balancing home life, a blended family, four kids and a career — my husband, Mendy, is the person who keeps us going. He’s always been there, encouraging me to do what I do. Because he believes in my work as much as I do.
We’ve been married and a blended family for nearly 10 wonderful years, and when people meet us, they are always a little surprised because we don’t act like a “blended” family. We have four amazing children – I say three are my stepchildren only because I can’t take credit for giving birth to them, not because they aren’t mine.
They make me weep with pride sometimes. Like when you tell your kids to do things, and you raise them a certain way and they turn around as adults (like our oldest son) – and say things like “Bye, I’m going to Israel to join the army — because I feel I have an obligation to fight for my homeland.” And you think omg, he listened to me! Really??
In the balance, being Shabbat-observant also is important in regard to keeping family time a priority. Come Friday at sundown, I’m home, the phone is off, the computer is off. There’s nothing but family.
Restaurant: Kravings – my new kosher hot spot. Love the sushi!
Place to meet for coffee: I am a Starbucks girl. (Though Great Lakes Roasting Company has almond milk and that’s winning me over for a better place to sit and mingle.)
Building in the Detroit skyline: The Guardian Building.
Place to take kids or visitors: Comerica Park. We’re season ticket holders.
Vacation place(s): Miami Beach. My husband is fairly certain that 52nd and Collins Avenue is actually heaven. In Michigan, we love Petoskey and Charlevoix.
Spot in Israel: Haas Promenade. That’s where text-book Judaism suddenly becomes real.
Sports: Running. Cycling. Kickboxing (an adrenaline rush).
Jewish Food: Potato kugel.
Jewish Expression: Menche! That’s our catch-all phrase for everyone, end of conversation, no further discussion, usually spoken with a slap of a hand on a table.
Guilty pleasures: Watching episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Never leave home without: My iPhone and a pack of gum.
Grey Mountain, by John Grisham
I can drywall. My father taught me how when he refinished the basement when I was a kid. I was the son he never had.