Laura Black started out as a client of The Associated, a Jewish funding organization, back when it was called Jewish Family Services.
She was going through a divorce, had three small children, was finishing up law school, and starting a business.
“I would drive down Park Heights Avenue to what was then JFS. I promised myself then that I would give back,” she said. Now, more than 20 years later, she is the out-going president of The Associated Women group, and is working on writing an inspirational book.
And on May 31 during the group's annual meeting, set for 5-7 p.m. at , 7401 Park Heights Ave. in Pikesville, the group will honor Black for her two years of leadership service to the agency.
"Two words to describe Laura are 'boundless energy,'" said Michelle Ostroff, director of programming for The Associated. "Working with her on events over the past two years, she was always a source of inspiration."
Being an inspiration is Black's purpose. “My passion is empowering women,” she said with her signature enthusiasm.
And she has done just that during her two years as president.
Black pointed out one of her biggest accomplishments in office: “We changed the name from the 'Women’s Department' to 'The Associated Women,'” she said.
More than just a name change, it also indicates how the perception of the group has changed—how its stature has grown, she said.
To inspire and connect Jewish women, she created a networking group through The Associated: Jewish Professional Women’s Initiative (JPWI), aimed at working women who seek personal, business, social and professional connections. The Initiative includes speakers and volunteer activities.
While she is leaving her duties as president, Black said she is excited about many of the group's activities that are ongoing, including Chapter Two, a one-year program for empty-nesters. “It’s about finding your passion and putting it into action,” she said.
Through that program, empty-nesters meet once monthly to hear speakers, and then choose a project to become involved with, whether it's working with Weinberg Center residents, or creating a seder for children with special needs. “We’re starting our fourth group,” she said with obvious pride.
Then there's the community-wide, all-women’s Passover seder sponsored by the group. While there are other women’s seders held around town, this is a well-attended function that she says women look forward to each year.
Black is also proud of the Beatrice de Luna Women, a networking group for “high-level business and professional women” named after an early philanthropist. She describes it as a venue to network with like-minded women.
Helping Other Women
Coming of age on the cusp of the women’s movement, Black recalled her own journey to success. “I went to law school as an adult,” she said, “when my boys were 4 and 7. I gave birth to my daughter right after graduation.” Her children are now 23, 29 and 33 years old, and she is the very-involved grandmother of a 3 1/2-year-old and infant twins.
After graduation, she and a friend of hers from law school started a legal staffing company. “We grew that into one of the largest in the world.”
But along the way, Black found she needed some support in her personal life. As a transplant resident from Miami, she was on her own in Baltimore when her marriage dissolved. “I was going through a divorce and turned to Jewish Family Services," which is now called Jewish Community Services, an agency under the auspices of The Associated.
“It was such an enlightening experience. Whether you could afford services or not, they were provided. Not coming from Baltimore, it gave me a place where I felt like I belonged.”
A Philanthropic Legacy
Black had grown up in a family that modeled charitable giving, and because of her business success, she was eventually in a position to give back. “My paternal grandfather was very philanthropic. As a child I would witness his belief in helping the community. He had strong Jewish values.”
As her involvement with The Associated grew, so did her giving.
Since many opportunities to volunteer with The Associated revolve around fundraising, Black said she is happy to set the record straight. “We value your time and we value your money,” she said forthrightly, admitting that certain groups have minimum limits for participation while others are open to everyone. No matter what your means, she stressed, “There are no barriers to participation.”
She advises potential volunteers to contact the organization's Center for Community Engagement and Leadership to find the best fit for themselves within the agency. “It’s a great way to get involved and find out what your interests are,” she said.
Secrets to Success
She is in the process of writing a book called Big Butts, Fat Thighs, and Other Secrets to Success: How to Get Where You Want by Being Real.
“My message for women is to figure out what’s stopping them, come to terms, and accept it, and move on by being real and authentic.” The theme of her website, fittingly, is “Real Women Win.”
And she blogs frequently on her website, providing snippets of insights from her future manuscript.
"The first half of the book deals with accepting who we are,” she explained. “The second half shows us how to use those vulnerabilities to our advantage.”
, including a lite-fare reception, is open to all women in the Baltimore Jewish community, Ostroff said. Walk-ins are welcome, and no registration is required.
For details, contact Ostroff at 410-843-7479.