April: Faith Leaders
In recognition of the multiple religious holidays that occur this April, ABNY is highlighting YPs working in leadership roles within faith institutions to guide, inspire, and lead others.
Congratulations to our April YP Spotlights of the Month, Natasha B. Venegas Abarca, Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, and Shai Lindsey Kartus, UJA-Federation of New York!
Natasha B. Venegas Abarca
I was always interested and passionate about collaborating with and becoming part of an organization that was committed to serving the community. Growing up as an active young person in my faith, I wanted to dedicate my career, skills, talents, and gifts to helping others through the organizations I’ve had the pleasure to work with. I’ve always felt called to do something more and I’m here today after hard work, determination, discernment, and incredible mentors who have guided me in both my profession and faith life.
I’m most proud of the journey, the people I’ve encountered, the friendships I’ve made, the lessons I’ve learned, and the opportunity to contribute to the community. At Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, I’m able to work alongside and encounter individuals committed to supporting the wellbeing of our neighbors in need. That’s what I’m most proud of.
I would tell others to find what they’re passionate about, even if you are in a niche field like I am. Bring all of your professional and creative skills to your area of work because it deserves the same attention to detail and integrity as someone would put into any other industry. It’s a blessing and a privilege to serve a community alongside a faith-based human service agency that values the dignity of every person, responds to their needs, and advocates on their behalf.
This question made me chuckle. I was born and raised a New Yorker. It doesn’t get better than that. However, when I’m driving home and the sun is setting on the city, bathing the Statue of Liberty in all of her glory, it gives me goosebumps. I try to envision the different faces that came before me, those that have walked the streets, built the place we all call home today. This grounds me. That’s when I know.
Shai Lindsey Kartus
Building a team & toolbox. From a young age, I was inspired by Jewish communal life and giving back through mine and my family’s involvement in our synagogue and Federation. It wasn’t until college though that I realized my goal of ‘helping people’ could be done in the world of Jewish non-profit organizations I grew up in, rather than through psychology, my original college major. My passion was confirmed as an intern in multiple fundraising roles, first at Jewish National Fund (JNF) and then at UJA-Federation of New York. From there, the light activated in me while doing this work got brighter through the years and through the relationships I built. While many skills in this job come naturally as a ‘people person,’ some are to be honed through seminars, fellowships, and other key learning opportunities. Plus, mentors along the way to learn from are essential, gratifying, and not to be taken for granted.
Creating communities. It’s an honor to connect people not just to their passions and philanthropy, but also to each other, within the Jewish community. Through my Third Generation Holocaust Survivors & Supporters community, we welcome those in their 20s and 30s who are grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors and/or are passionate about Holocaust remembrance and education to plan programs highlighting Holocaust Survivors’ stories. We host a Survivor Series as well as events featuring ‘hot topics of today’ such as Michael Zegen, Joel Maisel from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, sharing behind the scenes of the show as well as his grandfather’s story. When you put your whole heart into your work, all you wish for is others feeling the same; when people approach me after our events in tears sharing ‘this is the community they’ve been looking for and how can they join,’ I know we are making an incredible impact.
Let passion be your guide. Anyone can hold a job in the Jewish non-profit world, but to have a lasting career, I believe you need to stand behind what you do and imagine yourself on the other side. I encourage those aspiring to be part of this work to choose a cause they personally care about and explore the niches within the organization that makes it happen: fundraising, grant-allocation, event planning, the list goes on! There are many ways to contribute to an organization’s life saving work, but if you are not passionate about what you’re doing every day, feeling that if you weren’t a professional you’d be the lay leader, those you’re engaging will feel that. As a UJA donor myself, I can speak honestly about the impact I know I’m making and therefore inspire others; you get to be your most authentic self in this job and that is a gift.
Shlepping, but make it fashion. When you’re carrying three tote bags and one purse while rolling your suitcase with one hand and holding an iced coffee that you *had* to have in the other, and the love you have for keeping it moving on your feet outweighs carrying more than anyone ever should in ‘stuff,’ you’re a New Yorker. Welcome to my day to day where I’m always carrying an absurd amount of bags, no matter the occasion. Usually I am not in proper shoes, and even when I’m sweating making it down to the subway, I am still flattered when someone asks me where to go because to them, I’ve got it all together. No matter the borough I live in – whether it’s Manhattan or Brooklyn – give me my go-to fruit carts, cute coffee shops, and bags to shlep on my feet, and I’ll be a happy, independent New Yorker.