When Vivian Bass looks back on her 30 years at Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, 25 of which have been as its CEO, her fondest memories will be the times she unexpectedly ran into residents in line at a bank or attending a local festival. She basks in seeing a person with disabilities able to use the Metro for the first time or beginning his or her new job.
“It just looks so natural seeing them as part of the community,” said Bass, who recently announced she will step down from the Washington-area JFGH in the summer of 2016 and step up to chair the board of trustees of Jewish Women International for a three-year term.
In an emotional interview, Bass said JFGH has “been a huge part of my life forever.”
When she left her job as coordinator of special needs at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington and started with JFGH in 1995, the nonprofit had two residential homes serving 10 people, a staff of seven and $1 million in assets.
It now has 77 locations and assets surpassing $27 million. And 206 adults receive support from JFGH.
Those early days were “before the Internet, before fax machines and cell phones,” when beepers and pay phones were the best means of communication, she said.
Bass traced her passion for helping people with disabilities to fourth grade, when she “would always spend my recess and free time down the hall” helping those in a special education classroom. She continued her caring ways through summer camp, later making a vocation out of it.
“They are the people who are my inspiration,” she said of those who live in one of JFGH’s 23 residential homes in Montgomery and Fairfax counties or participate in the organization’s other programs, including MOST, or Meaningful Opportunities for Successful Transitions.
“They really are my children,” Bass said, who has three sons and four grandsons of her own. She described the many JFGH-connected b’nai mitzvah and weddings she has attended. One of her sons, who was a volunteer at JFGH, invited the residents from his group home to his wedding, Bass recalled.
She believes that everyone benefits from JFGH’s efforts — residents, volunteers, staff and community as a whole. It’s important for everyone to see what people with special needs can do, she said.
Under Bass’ leadership, JFGH has grown to be the leading organization for communities planning to start their own group home programs. Through the years, Bass has traveled to Moscow, Israel, India and Canada to speak about JFGH’s success. Professionals from South Africa, Japan, Norway and Australia have come to the group’s Rockville office to learn how to set up their organizations.
“Everything she does, she does just right,” said Susan Turnbull, chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and immediate past chair of JWI, who has worked with Bass often.
“Vivian is tireless. Vivian is remarkable. Vivian is one of a kind. She is someone who looks at things and finds ways to fix them,” she said.
Equally effusive are Stephanie and Jack Ventura. “We, along with so many other families, have been privileged to have our dear son reside in the JFGH program and benefit from all the special care and concern that JFGH shows for the residents. Vivian set the standard for how the care should be provided and she has modeled this for all staff.”
Bass would be happy to know that. She believes her time at JFGH has made it possible to step up to the volunteer position at JWI. But first, the 67-year old Bethesda resident promised to help her successor get acclimated to the job after he or she is chosen through a nationwide search.
Besides working with JWI, Bass will continue to serve on the executive committee of Leadership Montgomery and continue on the board of Potomac Community Resources, a group she helped found. She also will remain on the boards of JCPA and Nonprofit Montgomery.