“When you are fortunate, you have a responsibility to give back,” Sheryl Blechner recalled her mother, Rita Speer, often saying.
Sheryl took this advice to heart and has made philanthropic giving and volunteering a large part of her life. Whether it is being the first to donate to the new Horwitz & Zusman Child and Family Center, supporting Childrens’ Hospital of Atlanta, serving as President of Temple Beth Tikvah or investing in a small plot of land in Israel for adults with disabilities to enjoy and tend a garden, Sheryl has made her philanthropic impact felt in Atlanta and around the world.
“She sprinkles fairy dust where we need it most. She is always one of the first to donate to a new project or campaign. She has sponsored staff appreciation lunches and will look for other ways to share her sunshine,” said CEO Terri Bonoff.
“We are so in awe of her, and we know she gives to so many deserving organizations. This is a woman we are honored to celebrate and shine a spotlight on and say thank you for all of the many times she has supported JF&CS,” she said.
How it Started
Sheryl first got involved with JF&CS after she read a story in the Atlanta Jewish Times about Jody Reichel’s Chanukah gift program that provided holiday gifts for families who could not afford to celebrate the season. The story inspired her to start giving to JF&CS.
After seeing the impact that JF&CS had on the community, she joined the JF&CS board of directors, and became involved in resource development for the agency. She invested in JF&CS because the agency focused on what it does well. She helped the fundraising team solicit donors so that JF&CS could help more people in need of support. She then accepted the role of VP of Resource Development to further assist in essential fundraising.
Capital Campaign and Giving Garden
In 2015, she joined the Capital Campaign Cabinet to “Complete the Campus”, which raised money to build the new IndependenceWORKS building for adults with intellectual & developmental disabilities, and to renovate the clinical wing. The Campaign soared past their intended goal of 5.5 million, raising 6.6 million. Sheryl was integral to beating that goal. She also wanted to add something special to the renovated campus.
After discussing it with son, Zane, she decided to fund a revitalized Giving Garden in honor of her parents, Rita and Sam Speer. The garden spoke to Sheryl and her family. From her upbringing with a farm, Sheryl shared, “Gardening is a great tool for everyone. It teaches an appreciation for the food that’s in front of someone. One learns the importance of work and the importance of responsibility.” Her hope was that the garden could represent a living classroom for life’s lessons and support JF&CS programs. One objective was that the harvest would supplement the canned and boxed goods to given to food-insecure clients. The other objective was to engage participants at IndependenceWORKS.
“The thing I love about it (the garden) is that it’s such a great equalizer. It allows everybody to be stimulated by sight, sound, and touch, and everyone, regardless of ability, can experience nature,” she said. Clients and volunteers are invited to work and harvest vegetables.
Horwitz-Zusman Child & Family Center and Kosher Food Pantry
After learning about the substantial need for more child and teen therapists, and the plans for a new family center, Sheryl was the first to seed the project, and get it off the ground. In addition, she inspired other donors and funders including the Jewish Federation of North America, who matched her first gift.
“I am inspired by the additional services they want to offer families, including an executive functioning coach and a parenting coach. When you have a family member struggling, it is not just that person struggling, the whole family is involved and will be affected. JF&CS provides support for the whole family,” she said.
The Zusman-Horwitz Center will officially open in 2022; however, some staff have already been hired and are taking appointments.
Similarly, when the food pantry was experiencing growing pains, Sheryl made a gift to help expand the pantry and hire a new manager. Once she donated, others were inspired and did so as well. Sheryl continues to make a philanthropic impact in Atlanta and around the world.
“Especially at this time of Thanksgiving, and Giving Tuesday, we want to thank Sheryl for all she does for the people of JF&CS and our community. It is her spirit of giving that allows us to do the work we do,” said Terri.
Please join us and match her gift with yours.
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