Features September 2020

Giving Back: One Local Woman’s Passionate Mission

“I can’t think of a time when volunteering wasn’t a part of our family,” said David Baer. Baer, 27 and living in Chicago, is Gail Baer’s oldest child. “My mom has always gotten involved in the communities where we have lived, and my sisters and I have kept that tradition alive.”

Gail Baer, vice president of philanthropic services for Jewish Family & Children’s Service in Phoenix, grew up with a passion for giving back. As a child in Bethesda, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., it was her family’s mantra.

“My parents were always involved and volunteering for various organizations, especially my mother,” says Baer. “She was a staunch activist in the Soviet Jewry movement, which was an international human rights campaign through the 1980s.  “I remember going with her to rallies and helping volunteer where we were needed.”

This sense of commitment to community continued into her college years.

“I have always been a proud math and science nerd,” says Baer, and it paid off when she was accepted to Cornell to study engineering.

While in college, Baer excelled in data analysis, change management and operational research. She also continued down the road of philanthropy through her sorority, Sigma Delta Tau.

There, she met and fell in love with fellow engineering student, Michael Baer.

The two married after college in 1989 and Baer began working her way up the corporate ladder on the East Coast, initially as a management consultant. Over the next 10 years, the couple would toggle between New York City and Washington, D.C. while starting a family.

“In 1999, my husband’s job required us to move to Singapore for a few years,” says Baer, who whose three children were all under the age of 6.

Baer remembers those days as among the most impactful and inspiring for their family.

“It not only bonded us in a way you would not believe, but opened our eyes to different flavors, customs and traditions than we had ever experienced before,” says Baer. “Every family should be so lucky to experience what we did during those years together.”

The family was still living in Singapore during 9/11. As one would imagine, security tightened. There was a military presence everywhere. Travel was limited. The world was on high alert.

When her husband’s project completed overseas in 2002, the family moved back to the East Coast, where she took on a leadership role with Grant Thornton, using her analytical mind to help expand the company’s business model beyond tax and accounting and into consulting.

In 2005, serendipity struck.

“My husband had the opportunity to relocate to Phoenix just as Grant Thornton announced an enhanced presence here,” says Baer. “Arizona became home.”

And Arizona provided an opportunity to continue helping others.

“Being a newer business in the Valley, I took on the responsibility of working with other firm leadership and associates to build a tangible and sustainable philanthropy presence here in Phoenix,” says Baer.  Tapping into her skills in data analysis and research and her background in community outreach, Baer launched GT Cares, a community relations program, for the firm in 2007.

According to Baer’s daughter, Rachel, 25, a software engineer in San Francisco, hearing about the programs that her mom was involved with at work was often the topic of conversation in the Baer household.

“I don’t think I realized that volunteering and giving back were not part of everyone’s family.  We were always participating in causes with our parents.  And as we got older, we have stayed involved with nonprofits that are important to us.”

“I never thought my background in numbers would connect the way it did to the concept of giving back, but the impact we were having was real, tangible and one of the most fulfilling things in my career to that point,” says Baer. “One of those organizations GTCares supported was the Valley of the Sun United Way, which fights to break the cycle of poverty across Maricopa County.

When the organization announced a new position to help engage corporate partnerships in 2011, Baer knew it was time to leave her private sector career for the world of nonprofit work.

By 2016, with five years of dedicated service under her belt, Baer was ready to take the next step in her advocacy journey – that step took her to Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JFCS). The organization’s mission statement – Healing Lives. Whatever It Takes. – resonated with her.

“This has been the central mission of JFCS in this community for more than 85 years,” says Baer. “Their mission has been a part of my life since childhood; it is a perfect fit.”

JFCS provides behavioral health, healthcare and social services to all ages, faiths and backgrounds across Maricopa County.

“Our mom and dad have worked hard to instill a strong work ethic and the importance of helping others in all of us,” said Amy, 23, also a software engineer, living in Seattle. “We share that commitment and have found organizations in our own communities to support. “

According to Baer, “my position at JFCS is a unique one – it allows me to combine my analytical and philanthropy background to help people convert their passions and generosity into a true investment into the community,” says Baer. “I work directly with donors to create a legacy of giving that will live on for generations.”

The organization has also been at the forefront of helping the community during COVID-19.

Baer was instrumental in creating the JFCS Emergency Assistance Fund providing a vehicle for individuals to help the community and support the JFCS mission.

“Our community’s collective heart is extraordinary,” says Baer. “The public has continued to show up and step up—motivated, inspired, and compelled to help. Volunteers are delivering goods, making masks and donating blood. Donors are digging deep in their pockets to offer financial support so that others can meet their basic needs. The outpouring of commitment and support from the community has been and continues to be remarkable.”

Specific JFCS programs and services include: counseling, mental health assessment and treatment, early childhood trauma assessment and treatment, child crisis intervention and rehabilitative services, support for victims of domestic violence, substance abuse, work force readiness for teens aging out of foster care, and services for the Jewish community.

The three JFCS integrated healthcare centers and the outpatient behavioral health clinic remain open and have added telehealth services as a treatment option. Among the programs that have continued during the pandemic, albeit with some adjustments to service delivery include:

  • Counseling and Case Management
  • Creative Aging
  • Helping Hands Emergency Financial Assistance
  • Hospital Chaplaincy
  • Jewish Career Services
  • Just 3 Things Food Pantry
  • Older Adult In-Home Services
  • Parent Aide, Supervised Visitation, and Family Preservation
  • Real World Job Development
  • Senior Concierge
  • Shelter Without Walls (domestic violence support services)

“The work we do is more important than ever,” said Baer. “As an agency that works with vulnerable populations who are most at-risk, we adapted our programs and reviewed alternative strategies to continue serving those who depend on our services.”

For more, visit www.jfcsaz.org.

Written by: Abbie S. Fink

Abbie S. Fink has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She is vice president/general manager at HMA Public Relations in Phoenix. www.hmapr.com

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