Howard Gleckman saw two “huge challenges” in the search for a CEO for the Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington. The first was replacing David Gamse, who in his 30 years leading JCA became the “personification of the organization.” The second was conducting the job search during a global pandemic.
“It was very strange,” said Gleckman, JCA’s president. “I was not particularly comfortable with doing a search where we could not meet the candidates in person. But, of course, COVID made us all do things that we were not comfortable doing.”
While the search was nationwide, the JCA found a new head close to home. In January, Shane Rock, 59, of Gaithersburg succeeded Gamse as head of the nonprofit that provides programs and services in support of older adults.
Rock’s hiring at JCA marks the beginning of new leadership after Gamse’s three-decade tenure. A seasoned professional in nonprofits, Rock will be responsible for leading the senior-services agency into the post-pandemic era.
Rock had been CEO of Interfaith Works, a nonprofit supporting low-income families in Montgomery County. Before that, Rock managed senior services programs at Jewish Social Service Agency in Rockville.
Rock said it was “a humbling experience” to be Gamse’s replacement.
“I mean, I looked up to David,” Rock said. “So the idea of even possibly stepping into [his] shoes was a tall order for me.”
JCA spent $6.4 million on programs and operations in the 2020 fiscal year, according to its annual report — programs that provided seniors with transportation, assisted them in job training and job searching, and connected seniors to students for mentoring and tutoring.
Gleckman still hasn’t met his new CEO in person. He said Rock was “clearly the best choice” out of the five candidates the search committee interviewed.
“He jumped right in and was able to help us as we managed through the pandemic,” Gleckman said. “And now Shane is working very hard to begin the planning so that when we come out of this, JCA is going to be prepared to once again provide in-person services.”
Rock said his whole career in nonprofit work can be traced back to working in his parents’ grocery store in Schuyler Falls, a small town in upstate New York.
“Literally, there were more cows than people,” he said.
From age 10 until he left for college, Rock helped out in the store. He watched as his parents gave away food to neighbors who were sick, injured or out of work.
“My parents were serving kind of like the social service agency of the town, because there wasn’t one,” Rock said. “And so if there was someone who was sick or someone who needed help, they helped them. It was the kind of thing you do in a small town. You take care of your neighbors.”
So he kept that philosophy in mind at Oberlin College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1984. He went on to earn a juris doctor degree from Vanderbilt University in 1987.
After law school, Rock worked as a program director for three years at a homeless shelter in Nashville. He served in leadership positions at several nonprofits until becoming director of the immigrant service center at Jewish Family Service of Seattle in 2007.
In 2012, Rock moved to the Washington area, not for work, but for love. Six months earlier, he was introduced to Karen Rothschild by a mutual friend. The two were attending a conference on refugee resettlement and “hit it off,” according to Rock.
That’s when Rock moved across country and started work at JSSA. He and Rothschild were married two years later. The two are an interfaith couple, according to Rock, who was raised as a Catholic, but no longer identifies with any faith.
In addition to community service, Rock has another lifelong passion: bowling, “which I can’t do during COVID, and I can’t wait to get back into the lanes.” Rock describes his skills as “serious amateur level.”
In his new role, Rock said his goal is to make existing JCA programs more accessible and to find new ways to serve seniors.
“When I reach the point that David [Gamse] has reached in retirement, I hope I can look back and say that JCA moved from being an amazing leader in the D.C. region to an organization that others serving elders look to for innovative and effective programs that help seniors thrive.”