Sprout concierge helps East Bay families get connected

Sprout, a new program of the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, has been launched to help families — particularly newcomers and new parents — access Jewish education opportunities, with a concierge available to ease the way.

The initiative brings together two pre-existing youth programs under one umbrella and offers the concierge to assist families in connecting with preschools, synagogues and other resources for Jewish children and families in the East Bay.

The two programs are PJ Library, which distributes Jewish-themed books to nearly 2,500 children in the East Bay, and a financial assistance program for kids’ Jewish summer camp and Israel trips that has been in existence for years. With the newly branded Sprout, the federation hopes to bring greater visibility to its existing youth programs.

Liora Brosbe

But Sprout’s major innovation is its youth and family concierge, Liora Brosbe, who connects families to more than 50 Jewish partner organizations in the East Bay. Brosbe is a licensed marriage and family therapist and mother of three who lives in Berkeley, where she coordinates semimonthly Shabbat services at Congregation Netivot Shalom for families with young children. She previously worked at Family Paths Inc., treating individuals and families in Alameda County. As the concierge, she meets with families and makes personalized recommendations based on their needs.

Some families who contact Brosbe are new to the area or have just had a child and are looking to connect with other Jewish families, tot Shabbat programs or High Holy Day services. Brosbe offers families several options, pointing them toward synagogues or agencies that will reach out to the family as well. Brosbe has made referrals for about 70 families since she started the position in August.

An array of resources and programs has long been available, but “people still seem to have difficulty accessing them,” explained Dana Sheanin, senior director of community impact at the East Bay federation.

 “One of the gaps in the community is support for new parents,” said Sheanin, who hopes that Sprout, in partnership with East Bay congregations and Jewish agencies, can help bridge that gap. “That’s a moment where people are overwhelmed and a little unsure and are looking for support and don’t know how to find it.”

In one instance, a single mother wanted her 3-year-old to attend Jewish preschool but was struggling to afford it. She contacted Sprout for assistance. Although the East Bay federation doesn’t offer financial aid for preschool, Brosbe helped her brainstorm ways to make it more affordable, such as joining a congregation that offers scholarship opportunities.

The federation decided to create the youth and family concierge service after convening a task force of East Bay Jewish educators that spent six months researching barriers to participation in Jewish education programs. The federation worked with Jewish LearningWorks, which has developed Jewish concierge services on the South Peninsula and in Marin County.

Sheanin expects the concierge program to become more active in the coming year.

“We know that the fall is a time, with the holidays, that a lot of families are looking to connect,” Sheanin said. “That’s a great window for us to make sure that everybody knows that [the concierge] is available.”

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a J. parenting columnist and former staff writer. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.