Two Locals Nominated for Jewish Community Hero Award

[Archived from September 25, 2009]

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

Two members of the Louisville Jewish Community have been nominated for the United Jewish Communities First Annual Jewish Community Hero Award. If you know community activists Amy Benovitz and Amy Shir, their nomination is certainly no surprise.

Both are always looking for opportunities for tikkun olam (the repair of the world). Benovitz frequently identifies people and organizations in need of help, creates a project that will address the need, and recruits other to help ensure the success of her undertaking. Shir donates her time to help the working poor become financially self-sufficient.

Benovitz and Shir need your help, but this time, what they need is your votes – for Benovitz at and for Shir at individual chosen as the 2009 Jewish Community Hero will receive $25,000 to go toward their volunteer work.

The winner will be determined by the number of votes he or she receives. (You can vote for both Benovitz and Shir once a day.) The 20 leading vote-getters on October 8 will become finalists in the competition. The top five finalists in the next round of voting will be honored at UGH’s General Assembly (GA), which takes place in Washington, D.C., November 8-10. A panel of judges will then select the Jewish Community Hero of the Year from among the finalists.

Amy Benovitz

An innovator, collaborator and organizer, Benovitz has a very long list of tikkun olam projects to her name. Currently, she is raising money and organizing volunteers to work on the eighth Habitat for Humanity house sponsored or co-sponsored by the Louisville Jewish community. She’s often there doing her share of the work, too. She still needs volunteer builders on October 16 and 30 and the afternoon of November 13, as well as donations, to complete the project.

Benovitz frequently works with the Volunteers of America Family Emergency Shelter, taking its homeless residents on outings to Bats games and the zoo and ensuring that the children living there have the supplies they need for the school year. At VOA, they call her their “hip fairy godmother.”

When the Christmas holiday season rolls around, Benovitz created and coordinates the Merry Mitzvah program, contacting non-profit agencies around the community to see how the Jewish community can help. From answering phones so critical employees can have time with their families, to throwing parties, cooking meals and providing entertainment for those who can’t be with families, to baking cookies for police and fire personnel, she manages at least 25 different projects each year.

This is just the start. Whenever Benovitz sees a need, she does everything she can to see that the issue is addressed. The list of agencies that have benefited from her efforts is extensive.

She’s also a member of the Jewish Community of Louisville’s Community Relations Council and The Temple. She’s been on the Boards of The Temple and the Jewish Community Center

Benovitz has received a number of community awards for her work. In 1966, she received the Jewish Community Federation’s Julie E. Linker Young Leadership Award and in 2004, The Temple honored her as a “Jewel in Our Crown” at a Federation Women’s Division event. In 2005, she received a Spirit of Louisville Foundation WLKY Bell Award and in 2008, was named a Kentucky Governor’s Volunteer of the Year for Innovation from Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service.

Benovitz is an attorney working for Jefferson County as a prosecutor, and through her work, she often has the opportunity to help individuals and families coping with mental illness and mental handicaps. She earned her BA from Emory University and her JD from the University of Kentucky.

She and her husband, Lee, have two children, Nancy and Emily.

Amy Shir

Amy Shir is an asset building consultant with more than 20 years of finance and marketing experience, who works tirelessly, largely pro-bono, to help create opportunities for the working poor. She trains agencies on financial empowerment, homeownership training, microenterprise training, and how to obtain a post-secondary education. She speaks nationally on asset-building strategies, has published numerous papers in her field, and consults nonprofits across KY and the U.S. on helping their working poor clients lift themselves out of poverty.

Shir launched Raise Kentucky, a statewide asset building coalition last year and she chairs the Kentucky Coalition for Responsible Lending, which is working with the governor and the state legislature to cap interest rates at 36 percent on all payday loans issued in Kentucky.

Shir has a Master’s of Public Administration, state and local finance concentration, from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Wesleyan University.

She has been director of economic development with the Institute for Social and Economic Development in Washington, DC; director of the Refugee Savings Program for Jewish Family and Vocational Service (now Jewish Family and Career Services) and has held several professional positions.

Shir’s passion is to provide training and technical assistance to Individual Development Account (IDA) programs nationwide. These programs provide low income customers tools to build wealth via financial literacy training, matched savings accounts and sound asset purchases.

Shir has served on the Temple Shalom Board of Directors and the National Council of Jewish Women Board of Directors. She is a member of the Jewish Community of Louisville’s Community Relations Council and currently is part of the joint Temple Shalom/Keneseth Israel Tikkun Olam Committee working on the Hope for Haiti project.

Shir and her husband, Ron, have two children, Miriam and Gabriel, and are members of Temple Shalom.

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