After building up Jewish Social Services, shifting agency to resettlement, Executive Director Dawn Berney to retire | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

After building up Jewish Social Services, shifting agency to resettlement, Executive Director Dawn Berney to retire 


Jewish Social Services Executive Director Dawn Berney will retire from the position in May 2022 after serving for seven years. Due to health issues, Berney does not feel she can dedicate 40 hours per week to the organization. 

Berney took on the role back in 2015 when the Madison agency only had six staff members. It now has 17, and as Jewish Social Services grows, the role becomes more demanding.  

“I can’t work full time, and at this point the agency is big enough that we need a full-time executive director,” Berney said. “JSS is ready for somebody that can lead the agency now that it’s grown.”  

Within a year into her position, she was able to get a grant that helped launch a chaplaincy program. She soon applied for the organization to become a resettlement agency — it is currently the only one in Dane County — which she expressed she is really “proud” of.  

The agency was initially able to resettle refugees during the Syrian crisis and now continue to offer this program to others.  

“We’ve already resettled 72 Afghan refugees in the past five months and we expect to resettle 80 more refugees by the end of September,” Berney said. 

The third accomplishment she was most proud of during her time working for Jewish Social Services was the Covid Barrier Relief Fund. The grant came from a family in Madison, Berney said. 

“They’re funds that we’re able to give to individuals or families who may have been hurt due to covid and they’re falling through the cracks,” said Berney.  

These funds can be used for car repair, over the counter medication, security deposits for undocumented individuals and much more. This was especially important to her because the COVID-19 relief fund provided by the government was only available for documented people.  

These services are not limited to JSS clients and being Jewish is not required, she added. 

Looking back to her beginning and the agency’s growth, Berney reminisced over the various roles she played. At one point she was even the IT person for the organization.  

As Jewish Social Services grew she was able to remove some duties off her plate but still oversaw program development, talked to donors, reported for grants, oversaw the budget, staffed the board of director meetings, among other things.  

The person to replace her will need to have experience running a community non-profit and will need to immerse themselves into the community, she said. 

Berney grew up Jewish and when she moved to Madison her mother passed away. She ended up turning to Jewish Social Services to volunteer with senior housing at their Friday services.  

After that she joined the board, became the president of her synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, and that eventually led her to the executive director role. 

During retirement, Berney plans to take time to herself and is likely to volunteer for political campaigns.