Susie Forer-Dehrey, “We’re Not Saying Goodbye but See you Around”
Susie Forer-Dehrey, JFSLA’s Executive Vice President, is retiring after 37 years at the agency. Throughout her tenure, Susie has worn many hats. In each of her roles, Susie’s top priority was to provide the people of Los Angeles with the resources they needed to navigate their lives through challenges and changes. Susie’s leadership and hard work helped elevate the agency’s status and profile, and her empathy, compassion, and charisma made her the great role model and mentor she is today. People inside and outside of the agency consider Susie the heart of JFSLA. When staff from all corners of the agency have a question or need advice, they look to Susie.
Susie began as a JFSLA mentee in 1983. She was hired as a part-time intake specialist at JFSLA’s Valley Storefront Community Resource Center. “During that point in my life, I had obtained my Master’s Degree in social work, and it was really important for me to work with individuals and families wanting to better their lives,” said Susie. “Being a part of an agency that could help ease a family’s journey is exactly where I wanted to be.”
After six months, the director of the Valley Storefront told Susie that there was no more funding for her position. What seemed like an abrupt end was only the beginning. Three years later, Susie received a call from the same director offering her position back. At the time she received the call, she was working at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as the Director of Youth Campaign and the Committee for Programs in Israel. Although Susie felt grateful for the opportunity and experiences at the Federation, her heart belonged with JFSLA.
“I remember taking a pay cut to come back to JFSLA because that’s really where I saw myself,” said Susie. “I came back to work for JFSLA as a social worker for an intergenerational pilot program called Family Friends, matching older adults to volunteer to be surrogate grandparents to children who were chronically ill or disabled.”
Susie’s extensive knowledge of JFSLA stems from the different roles she has held throughout the years. After returning to JFSLA as a social worker, she was promoted to Director of the Family Friends program. After nine years in that position, she went on to lead other JFSLA programs, including the Director of Adult Day Healthcare, the Director of the Freda Mohr Center (which is now the Jona Goldrich Multipurpose Center), the Director of City Senior Services, and the Associate Executive Director. In the early 2000’s, Paul Castro, JFSLA’s immediate past CEO, asked Susie if she would be interested in fundraising. Susie recalls Paul asking her a few times before she accepted the Chief Operating Officer position. As Susie led the fundraising team, she focused on developing meaningful relationships with donors, JFSLA’s annual Gala, and other events such as Laughing Matters and A Night of Hope. Through her latest role as JFSLA’s Executive Vice President, Susie further developed the fundraising team while also overseeing the Communications and Volunteer departments.
“Each position possessed its own challenges and rewards, but throughout I was always inspired by Jewish Family Service LA’s history, culture, tradition, and mission of striving to build an inclusive, compassionate, and just society for all,” said Susie.
Looking back, Susie could not have imagined all the opportunities she received at JFSLA, the knowledge she acquired, and the support of her peers that would inspire her to take on new roles. “There were people that believed in me when I didn’t always believe in myself, and who mentored me and taught me that I could learn anything I wasn’t sure how to do,” said Susie. “The agency was a familiar and familial place. The relationships fed and nurtured me to stay for decades.”
There are some moments that stand out for Susie, such as attending a White House tea in 1989 hosted by Barbara Bush to recognize the innovation model of the Family Friends Project, producing a 60-second PSA with Dr. Joyce Brothers, accompanying survivors of the Holocaust on six March of the Living marches to Auschwitz-Birkenau with the purpose of teaching 200 Los Angeles high school seniors what survivors endured, and gathering at the Jewish Federation on 9/11 with other Jewish community organizational executives to determine how best to protect and provide comfort to the Los Angeles community. In recent years, Susie felt proud of how the JFSLA community came together during the COVID-19 pandemic to assure that the agency’s critical services remained available. In 2021, Susie received JFSLA’s Spirit of Humanity Award at the 29th annual Gala. At the event, the JFSLA Board of Directors announced that the award would be renamed the Susie Forer-Dehrey Spirit of Humanity Award.
“The relationships and experiences I’ve developed at JFSLA motivated me to work towards our JFSLA mission every day,” said Susie. “I was passionate to come into work and make a difference.” As Susie begins the next chapter of her life, she is extremely grateful to all the people who mentored her and saw her as a mentor. It was always important for Susie to keep an open door for any staff with questions and uncertainties.
“It’s time to hand over the reins. It’s time to let other people lead and take over, to help navigate where the JFSLA journey is going,” said Susie. “I really feel like JFSLA will be around for a long time, and sadly, that the world is a place where there will always be a need for JFSLA. I wish that wasn’t the case, but I trust that JFSLA will continue to provide the professional, warm, and caring services that they always have going into the future.”
But it is not goodbye, as Susie will still be working closely with JFSLA’s CEO, Eli Veitzer, as the Senior Advisor to the CEO.