Makom Accelerating to Higher Ground in Center City

By Categories: In the Media

July 5, 2017  | Jewish Exponent

Beverly Socher-Lerner trusts the process.

No, not “the Process” Joel Embiid and the Sixers swear to that involves sinking to the bottom before building your way back up.

The director of Makom Community, a Center City after-school program educating children ages 4 to 10 and their parents about how to enrich their lives through Judaism, believes hers is a formula that more families want.

She’s determined to help them get it and recently received a huge boost when Makom became one of nine organizations to join Cohort 10 of the San Francisco Bay Area-based UpStart’s Accelerator program. UpStart will provide tips through video conferencing, individual coaching and links to potential financial supporters.

Socher-Lerner, who started the nondenominational program in 2014 following “about 150 coffee dates” where she proposed her ideas to anyone in the Jewish community who would listen, is excited about its prospects.

“It’s a three-year incubator program that helps startups and nonprofits either start or get to the next level from where they’re at,” Socher-Lerner said. “It’s about growth and vision.

“At Makom Community we’ve grown more than 300 percent in three years, so it’s pretty clear there’s a demand for what we’re offering. The idea of the incubator is it helps us both assess the work we’re already doing and come up with out-of-the-box ways we might want to innovate next.”

In many ways, the Accelerator is the embodiment of her definition of Makom.

“I spent 12 years” at synagogue Hebrew schools, the 30-year-old Socher-Lerner said. “At each one, I would innovate in ways allowed to by the culture of the congregation. I found the congregations I was working with were interested in innovation but only so far.

“Then I began watching all these young families putting down roots in Center City and noticed there weren’t dynamic Hebrew schools or Jewish day schools in Center City. The options were very slim.”

When Makom opened its doors, only four children signed up for a program that meets them at their school at 3 p.m. then walks them to the center. There they combine Jewish learning, teamwork and fun until 6 p.m.

Now there are 21 children enrolled, which has enabled her to expand the staff to three.

But spreading the word hasn’t come easy, though funding through the Lasko Family Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia-administered

Bernard and Etta Weinberg Family Fund, along with individuals, has kept Makom afloat.

Getting names from UpStart of willing contributors searching for worthy projects should further enhance the operation, though Socher-Lerner understands the caution.

“It’s not a new flavor of orange juice,” said Socher-Lerner, who’ll be able to hire a full-time assistant to go with a part-timer and some substitutes. “It’s a place you’re sending your kid without you.”

Socher-Lerner’s commitment and foresight made UpStart select Makom from among 92 applicants.

“We were looking to bring in something innovative and interesting to Jewish life — something gaining traction with potential to scale and strong leadership at the helm life,” said Jaime Rapaport Barry, UpStart’s director of marketing and communications. “Those were all things we saw in Makom.”

The attraction was mutual.

“Their focus is on organizations providing access points to the Jewish community,” said Socher-Lerner, who’ll welcomes the opportunity to exchange ideas with the other eight selectees through video conferencing as well as meeting in person at UpStart events in Chicago and the Bay Area.  “We’re definitely still getting the word out.”

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