Jewish Family Services has been an anchor in Olga Vaynshtok’s life.
Through the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Vaynshtok relocated from St. Petersburg, Russia in 1991 with her son and was resettled by JFS. Her husband, Sam, had already moved to the Milwaukee area in 1989.
Her husband’s family had a close friend in southeastern Wisconsin who agreed to sponsor their move.
On July 1, Vaynshtok, of Mequon, will take the helm of the organization that helped her start her life in the United States. Her peers on the board of JFS chose her to serve as the agency’s next chair.
“This is kind of surreal on some level,” Vaynshtok said. “It’s like coming full circle.”
Vaynshtok immigrated to the U.S. just two days after she turned 30.
In Russia, Vaynshtok at first used her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering to work in a research and development capacity. But when the Soviet Union disintegrated, Vaynshtok relied on her training with English as a second language to find translating and interpreting work, as well as serving as a tutor.
In the U.S., Vaynshtok said, she was interested in trying a new career and reached out to JFS in 1993 to work in its employment and career counseling services.
Vaynshtok had an intake interview and three days later re- ceived a phone call with a job offer for a part-time role at JFS that was backed by about three months of funding.
That same day, Vaynshtok said, she also received an offer for a full- time position with health benefits at a mortgage company.
“I’m very lucky, because my husband is extremely supportive through all these years, and he said, ‘Which job will you enjoy?
Which job do you really feel like you would love to do?’” Vaynshtok said. “For me, there was no question. I wanted to work for JFS.”
Vaynshtok said she “absolutely loved” working as an interpreter because it made her feel helpful. By the time she started the job, she had been in the U.S. for a couple years. Vaynshtok said she could act as a bridge between the cultures of the former Soviet Union and America.
After working at the agency for a couple years, Vaynshtok said she became an employment counselor herself before pursuing further education and other work.
In 2008, she joined the board of JFS and has been a member since. Soon, she’ll chair the board.
John Yopps, the president and chief executive officer of JFS, said Vaynshtok’s engagement with the agency over the years will guide her leadership.
“She understands how all of those programs function, and she understands who they help,” Yopps said. “She knows how they interact with each other and with donors and with the community.”
Vaynshtok said she was humbled to be chosen for the job and wants to steer the organization to emerge from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hopefully, sooner than later, after this whole thing ends, we emerge as a better and stronger organization,” she said.