Susan Bichsel said she thinks every person can do something for another by stepping up to the challenge and in the Cleveland Jewish community, it’s never been truer. 

“Everyone’s willing to roll up their sleeves to help,” she said. 

Her success at Jewish Family Service Association of Cleveland, where she is president and CEO, is due in part to the backing of the local community, she said. 

With her leadership and the help of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and its president, Stephen H. Hoffman, along with the Jewish community as a whole, JFSA has achieved many firsts for its clients, such as creating the first congregate living for people with disabilities or mental illness.  

“What this community has been able to do for the populations that I care about, whether its people with disabilities or mental illness, is hands-down extraordinary,” Bichsel said. “We’ve been out in the forefront. We couldn’t do that without community backing. You have to have an organized community in order to do that.”

At JFSA, and throughout her career, she’s been dedicated to helping improve the lives of those living with disabilities or mental illness and their families. 

“You’re doing lifetime planning with them,” she said. “You really see what happens to people over time. You see growth, you see people change and you see good things happen.

“The reality is a lot of these kinds of disabilities, or issues of aging, require a lot of intensive intervention and involvement over time, but it also means that you form deep relationships, and you’re with people over a long period of time, which means you get to see people on the other side when they’ve come through something so that can be really gratifying.”

Not only does she recognize this community for her professional life, but it’s played a large role in her personal life as well. She’s been incredibly thankful for the strength of the community and its ability to be home for her family in a world where community can be a second thought.    

“We talk a lot about how the world has gotten a lot less community oriented, I think, and people are less likely to return home to wherever they grew up,” she said. “My kids know they have a place that is uniquely theirs and their friends in the Jewish community. It’s their home and I’m so grateful for that.” 

For Bichsel, making a difference doesn’t have to be all about money. While she knows how much an organization can benefit from a generous donation, it can be just as meaningful to give a call to someone who might be lonely.

“It’s about stepping up,” she said. “I really do think that every person can do something for somebody else. You can be helpful to a neighbor, you can be helpful professionally, you can be helpful personally. Everyone can do something no matter how large or small.” 

– Alyssa Schmitt

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