If she looks familiar, and you just can’t place her, there’s a good chance she served you your Greek salad and pita at Leo’s in the 90s. NEXTGen Detroit’s new Director, Stefanie Tuzman, is no stranger to the Jewish community here in Metro Detroit. But she’ll be the first to tell you, a lot has changed since she left after college.
Stefanie’s triumphant return to the Motor City says something. Actually, it says several somethings.
It wasn’t so long ago that people were saying, “Detroit’s biggest export is its young people.” While the 2007-2009 economic crisis was devastating for many Detroiters who had established careers, it also left a generation of recent graduates unable to begin their careers. And so a mass migration of young Detroiters left for greener pastures in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and everywhere in between.
But while the national and local economy thankfully made a comeback, it wasn’t enough for many young expats to give their hometown another shot. After starting adult lives, careers and families elsewhere, why come back?
Well, community for one.
NEXTGen Detroit, the young adult division of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, has been at the forefront of turning Detroit into a vibrant hub of young Jewish life — a place booming with social, spiritual, professional and cultural opportunities. Since its launch in 2010, participation in Federation’s events and programming for young adults has grown from about 1,500 to over 5,000 individuals, a number that increases by the day. These impressive figures, coupled with its qualitative success have made NEXTGen Detroit a model for young adult engagement that is now used by Federations across North America as well as non-sectarian organizations. It’s a sign of the times (and a lot of hard work) that Stefanie Tuzman and thousands of others are moving back in record numbers.
So where has she been all these years?
After graduating from Western Michigan University, Stefanie joined her parents, who had moved several years earlier at the onset of the recession, in Las Vegas for better career opportunities and significantly warmer weather. She began working for a poker website which came to an abrupt end, on Yom Kippur 2006, when a law was passed that made online gambling illegal. And thus, her journey to becoming a Jewish communal professional began.
A friend told her that BBYO in Vegas was hiring. While Stefanie had been active in BBYO in Detroit, she never thought of working for the organization as a professional. After doing some research, and discovering that the position embodied much of what she was passionate about and a skill set that she possessed, she applied and soon was hired.
“I always say that I fell into Jewish communal work,” says Stefanie. “I wasn’t looking to do it, I never thought I would end up here. But I happen to be good at it, and I happen to love it even more. You can teach specific skills to someone like how to engage with people, or how to work on a campaign, but you can’t teach passion and commitment. You really have to feel it to want to do it. And I do.”
Stefanie worked for BBYO for nearly three years, until she was approached by the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas who had taken note of the success she had growing and strengthening the BBYO program. Wanting new energy and a fresh set of eyes, they offered her a position running their young adult program.
“I started working for the Vegas Federation in 2009 overseeing the young leadership program JewEL (Jewish Emerging Leaders). I worked for young leadership for over two years, implementing leadership development opportunities, social programs, BGS experiences and networking events,” says Stefanie.
“Then I was promoted to Director of Women’s Philanthropy, one of the largest divisions that makes up the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas. A little over a year before my last day there, I added Director of Campaign to my title and oversaw the Jewish Federation’s campaign efforts including affinity groups, Women’s Philanthropy and overall campaign strategy and development.”
A few years short of a decade, the buzz about Detroit trumped the bright lights of Las Vegas.
“What hadn’t I heard about NEXTGen Detroit?” Stefanie asks. “First of all, this approach to being everything to everyone, and going to where the “customer” is, it’s really a different mindset. And it’s working. We’re reaching out to people and offering them experiences that they can’t get anywhere else. We’re providing young adults with an opportunity to connect to Judaism and to the community in whatever way is meaningful for them.”
With its deep roots, history and a commitment to passing on traditions to the next generation and giving them the freedom to make them their own, Detroit is pretty much every Jewish communal professional’s dream come true.
“I’m so impressed with our level of lay leadership and the NEXTGen Detroit Board,” she says. “The individuals in this community who have taken on a leadership role or have made the choice to get involved are really dedicated, committed and passionate young adults, and it’s incredibly inspiring.”
Stefanie had kept tabs on all the wonderful change and renewed interest in the Jewish community happening here with occasional visits back to Detroit and from staying in touch with high school friends. But seeing it first-hand at the Jewish Federations of North America’s TribeFest made it crystal clear, something special was happening in her hometown, and she knew she wanted to be a part of it.
“I remember watching the Detroit delegation walk into TribeFest in 2013. They were the biggest delegation, everyone wore matching sweatshirts, and there was just so much pride. Pride to be from Detroit. Pride to be representing their city. Pride in being Jewish,” she says. “Suddenly, I wanted everyone to know that I was from Detroit too. And I knew that meant something, something really important.”
Welcome home, Tuzmans. Welcome home.
“I always said, partly joking but partly not, that if I ever went to work for another Federation it would only be Detroit,” Stefanie says, “ so it’s funny that the reason we actually came back to Detroit was more about my husband.”
Stefanie’s husband, Jonathan, who is originally from New York, moved to Vegas for his career in the hospitality industry. After working for MGM Resorts in their corporate office for several years, the company offered him an opportunity to transfer to MGM Grand Detroit, and the Tuzmans jumped at it.
Stefanie and Jonathan, along with Brie their beagle, made the move in July to their new home in West Bloomfield. Now the Director of NEXTGen Detroit since August, and leading her team though the end of summer programming, planning for the new year and the rush of the holiday season, Stefanie is settling in and energized for what lays ahead.
“The level of excitement and dedication for the work we do here is incredible. I’m motivated and inspired by the great NEXTGen Detroit team and feel very lucky to work alongside them. I think our office environment here, particularly the NEXTGen Detroit department, is so full of energy and so fun to be a part of. And I really believe we have some of the most passionate, dedicated, knowledgeable and creative professionals in any organization.”
Stefanie and Jonathan are really enjoying checking out what’s new downtown, trying out restaurants and talking walks along the Riverfront and through Campus Martius Park.
“We haven’t spent too much time in the city since the revitalization began, and I’m still a little confused about what’s what, but we’re so excited to be exploring it,” says Stefanie. “We keep kosher at home, but we’re adventurous eaters when we’re out on the town. And it’s so nice to have amazing eateries like El Barzon and Wright & Co. here. And we’re always looking for suggestions of places we have to try!”
She says the roundabouts are a bit confusing, and she’s convinced her blood has thinned in the Vegas heat and she’s going to have a rough time braving a Michigan winter; but all-in-all, Stefanie Tuzman is ready to begin a new adventure in the place where it all began.
“I smile from ear to ear when people talk about all the great things Detroit is doing. I can’t wait to represent Detroit at national conferences and tell our story. And I’m excited to implement some new ideas to keep things fresh and exciting. I’m so happy to be home and ready to be part of Detroit’s future.”
Q & A with Stefanie Tuzman
One thing you’re most looking forward to now that you’re home: Fall, not winter, but fall…the changing colors of the leaves and the fresh, crisp air.
What you missed most about being a Detroiter: Leo’s Coney Island
What hasn’t changed a bit: Still so many potholes on the roads!
A couple places you’re looking forward to checking out? Selden Standard, Wright & Co. and Bistro 82.
One thing you never leave the house without: My purse hook. You should never leave your purse on the floor.
Guilty pleasure: Cheese…all kinds of cheese!
Favorite vacation destination: Vegas!!!
Spirit animal: I took an online quiz, which said I’m a swan.
Favorite holiday: Thanksgiving
Best book you read in the last year: The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins
Websites you most frequent: Facebook, Nordstrom Rack, and The Skimm
Where you take people who are visiting from out-of-town: Franklin Cider Mill, Detroit Zoo and Campus Martius
TV show addiction: Real Housewives of OC, Atlanta and New York
Words to live by: “The most important thing about life is that in order to get to where you want to go, you must keep on keeping on.” — found in a Chinese fortune cookie
Best movie quote of all time (in your humble opinion): “Surely you can’t be serious.” “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”