NCJW’s 2022-2023 Year in Review

By Erica Solomon, Executive Director

 June 13, 2023

Summer has arrived. School (and the legislature) is out for the year, graduation party tents appear in backyards, and the countdown to the first day of camp has begun in many houses–often more for the parents than the kids! Here at NCJW, June also marks the close of our fiscal and programming year and, while the work continues through the summer for us, it feels like a graduation of sorts as we reflect and prepare to step into the year ahead.

At our May 23 event, Shared Table, Shared Stories, we celebrated 130 years of NCJW with a joy-filled room of 150 plus advocates. We looked back on our legacy and celebrated past leaders (check out the event slideshow for some great throwback pictures!), and I had the privilege of sharing highlights of the previous 11 months. Here is a bit of what I shared…

At the Capitol, we saw an action-packed legislative session that included great progress on our primary advocacy issues, thanks in large part to advocates like you that wrote your representatives, showed up to march and lobby in-person, and lifted up your stories to empower changemaking:

  • A highlight was the passage of a tremendously impactful Education Policy and Finance bill, which includes funding for menstrual hygiene products to be provided by schools to all students in grades 4-12! This effort toward ending period poverty in Minnesota has been a labor of love for at least five years and has from the beginning been inspired and led by student activists who showed up to testify at committee hearings, interviewed with journalists, and pioneered changemaking pilot programs and advocacy groups at their schools.
  • With the one-year anniversary of the fall of Roe v. Wade happening this month, it’s easy to remember that we started last summer in a dark place for reproductive health, rights, and justice. While, at a national level, we still have a lot of work to do protecting and expanding abortion access, through the work of the MN Reproductive Freedom Caucus and advocacy led by the UnRestrict MN coalition, we have made progress that is worth celebrating in making and keeping Minnesota as a place where pregnant people can safely exercise their fundamental right to abortion. The early-in-session passage of the PRO Act, which recognizes this fundamental right, was monumental, but it was just the beginning. The continued leadership of Gender Justice, other UnRestrict partners, legislators of the Repro Freedom caucus, and more helped bring the actual practice behind the PRO Act to life by passing legislation to codify the lifting of unconstitutional restrictions, protect against out-of-state abortion attacks, ending funding to crisis pregnancy centers, and more.
  • Our third primary advocacy issue this year, as it has been for many, many years of hard work, was gun violence prevention. Along with a powerhouse of partners like Protect Minnesota, Mothers Against Community Gun Violence, and Moms Demand Action, our gun safety advocacy leads worked tirelessly on the passage of a public safety bill that includes common sense gun safety provisions like expanded background checks, extreme risk protection orders, and support for communities to stay safe and heal.

In the midst of all of this advocacy work, we also upheld our 130 year commitment to providing direct impact programs to the community:

  • Thanks to the dedication of our delivery volunteers and the generosity of our Give to the Maxi Pad donors, the Periods Happen program continued to distribute menstrual hygiene products to schools across the metro. As of today, our totals for this school year are over 18,000 pads and nearly 13,000 tampons distributed. As we head into the next chapter of the fight for menstrual equity in Minnesota, we maintain a supply of products that will be available to schools as they see how state funding will be implemented, to non-school organizations like food shelves, and to other potential recipients that might become the new focus of Periods Happen.
  • Another program, whose impact might be less readily visible but is no less monumental, is the Rapid Response Emergency Fund, which distributes emergency funds to St. Paul and Minneapolis Public Schools families experiencing homelessness and high mobility. This school year, the program has distributed a total of $21,800 to 42 families in quickly mobilized funding that has allowed them to cover a security deposit for a new housing situation, make rent after COVID or a death in the family led to missed work, covered fees for student enrichment activities, and much more. The social workers with whom we work on this program have shared that, in the face of immense need, this program is often the swiftest, most flexible and accessible safety net available for keeping families housed and keeping students in school and learning. Again, while this program may not be our most visible, I hope you can tell that it is certainly one of our most impactful.
  • The Books to Borrow program has continued to stock lending libraries in low-income housing communities with age- and culturally-appropriate books to instill a love of reading in families with early learners. Books to Borrow also hosts pop-up activities at community events like National Night Out and helps us build on incredible, often longstanding, partnerships with Neighborhood House, Project for Pride in Living, and more. As more in-person activities become possible after several years off due to COVID, we are excited to see what new and re-launched opportunities lie ahead for the program.
  • In addition to that, we also piloted and supplied volunteers for a free student clothing closet at Patrick Henry High School; hosted student groups from Carleton College and Beth El USY to learn about our reproductive health, rights, and justice work; led programming on the importance of the federal judiciary through Courts Matter MN; wrote over 1,200 get-out-the-vote letters through the Vote Forward campaign; and had a presence in Nationwide NCJW efforts like the Jews for Abortion Access Week of Action, Repro Shabbat, and the Israel Granting Program. Phew! When I hear all this it makes me feel ready for summer vacation!

As I said, though, the work continues, and we have a lot to look forward to as we transition from one fiscal year to the next, including continued advocacy on important issues and building and strengthening collective power through coalitions and partnerships. We also look forward to continuing and, in many cases, revitalizing our direct service work with new and returning leaders and volunteers, exploring new and expanded programs, and more leadership development opportunities. Most excitingly, we look forward to kicking off a comprehensive, community-informed strategic planning process that will welcome the input of our stakeholders, take stock of where we are in our 130th year, and color in the roadmap of what lies ahead for us.

So all I have left to say is…thank you. By writing yourselves into the NCJW Minnesota story, and by your continued commitment to action, you personally–and more importantly all of us together–are the special sauce that is going to keep this legacy of changemaking thriving into our next 130 years and beyond. I hope that all of what I’ve just shared has got you excited to be a part of it, because, whether it is by showing up to volunteer, supporting our fundraising efforts, joining an advocacy committee, or even just keeping an eye on our work via email and social media, we not only want, but need you to be a part of it.