Editorial: Passing the torch at the Amherst Survival Center

  • K. Lev Ben-Ezra Submitted Photo

Monday, December 31, 2018

Much attention has been paid to Mindy Domb’s election in November to the state Legislature representing Amherst, Pelham and a portion of Granby. At the same time, the position she is leaving — executive director of the Amherst Survival Center — is also an important one, and we are pleased that this vital organization has found a worthy successor in K. Lev Ben-Ezra.

Founded in 1976 and housed for most of the time since then in the brick school at North Amherst Center, the Amherst Survival Center has grown both in its physical size and the services it offers. The organization’s current home at 138 Sunderland Road was constructed in 2012.

During its hours of operation, the Amherst Survival Center is bustling with activity. Among its services: providing free meals, distributing food through its pantry and grocery store, offering a free medical clinic and providing free clothes and other items at its community store, stocked both with donated and purchased items. More than 200 people volunteer with the center, cooking meals, stocking shelves and making deliveries; and medical professionals volunteer their time in the clinic. Thousands are served each year.

Accessible by bus, the Survival Center fills a necessary role for low-income individuals and those experiencing homelessness, providing basic needs and also a sense of community in an attractive and welcoming space.

At the state level, the Healthy Incentive Program — allowing those eligible for food assistance to use money at local farmers’ markets — has suffered from a lack of funding. The federal food assistance program, called SNAP, has faced consistent threats of cuts in Washington. With state and federal programs serving low-income people at risk of being cut or defunded, local organizations like Amherst Survival Center become even more important.

During her tenure as executive director of more than five years, Domb built on the work done by her predecessor, Cheryl Zoll, who spearheaded the capital campaign to raise money for the building. Domb used her advocacy and communications expertise to expand many of the Survival Center’s programs. In a letter endorsing Domb for state Representative, former members of the Survival Center Board of Directors described her as “a strategic thinker, a problem solver and a champion coalition builder” with “unmatched” communication skills.

In a recent interview, Domb stressed the importance of community support for the Survival Center through donations of time, money and goods. Finding the many people to contribute resources through getting the word out and other advocacy is a significant part of the job, she said.

A lot of care was put into finding her replacement, Ben-Ezra, and we hope as she takes the helm at the Survival Center that she is able build on Domb’s good work.

Domb expressed her support for Ben-Ezra and pointed out that she will be working to fill needs not only in Amherst but in neighboring communities as well.

On accepting the position, Ben-Ezra said: “I have grown increasingly passionate about the importance of addressing challenges we face at both the individual intervention and systemic change level. I have been impressed for many years by the Amherst Survival Center’s commitment to leverage volunteers, donations and advocacy to create inclusive community, starting by meeting people’s most basic needs.”

Ben-Ezra comes to the organization having served for eight years as chairwoman of the Franklin County/North Quabbin Communities that Care Coalition. She has also served as a steering member for the Hampshire county Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth and as a member of the Regional Employment Board’s Youth Career Connections Council. These organizations all work with youth, including those who are at risk, and we think that experience will serve Ben-Ezra well in her new role.

Ben-Ezra also has been active over the past decade with Community Action Pioneer Valley, where she most recently served as director of youth and workforce development.

Through her advocacy work, Ben-Ezra is continuing her family’s legacy. Isaac Ben-Ezra, Ben-Ezra’s grandfather who died in 2017, spent decades fighting for better health care, the environment and senior rights, and supported many local organizations including the Survival Center.

Ben-Ezra officially takes the reins at the end of January. Until that time, former Survival Center Board President and current active volunteer Jan Eidelson will serve as interim executive director.