Buddy Sapolsky did not stay retired long.
Less than six months after stepping down from his post as executive director of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, Sapolsky, 68, is diving into a brand new role — and the expertise he gained from his past position will play a large part in the prospective success of the endeavor.
Starting this month, Sapolsky will serve as a consultant for Baltimore’s Bethel AME Church. He will work hand-in-hand with its spiritual leader, Rev. Dr. Frank M. Reid III, to revitalize and revamp the Bethel Outreach Center’s physical condition and the services it’s able to provide. The three-story, 20,000 square foot center, is located in the Madison Park neighborhood of West Baltimore.
Reid, an internationally known voice in the African-American community, handpicked Sapolsky after studying his work with the Weinberg Park Heights and the Rosenbloom Owings Mills facilities.
“I knew he was the person to help us change the culture here so that it would become more than a giveaway center but an empowering institution,” Reid said.
Prior to 2013, Reid and Sapolsky’s relationship was an informal one. They knew each other through casual meet-and-greets, handshakes at events here and there. However, encouraged after a talk with Baltimore Jewish Council Executive Director Dr. Arthur C. Abramson, Reid decided to get to know Sapolsky a little better.
In late January, just weeks after Sapolsky’s retirement, Reid reached out, and the two soon learned they had quite a bit in common.
“Buddy and I became friends almost instantaneously,” Reid said. “We immediately started with mutual respect, and then we began to build the friendship.”
“The fact that we both feel we can be change agents is extremely important,” said Sapolsky, who added that the project “spoke to him” immediately.
And the role, which will span six months (but could continue longer following an evaluation), provides Sapolsky the opportunity to stay busy with a new passion without comprising the day-to-day flexibility and free time he had been looking forward to in retirement.
“I was absolutely afraid I was going to get bored quickly,” Sapolsky said of retirement. “[But] if I did go back and do something it had to be on my terms, and it had to be something where I felt I was contributing and doing something that had some meaning to it.”
While Sapolsky will ultimately be lending his opinion and expertise, he certainly won’t be the only say.
A paramount philosophy in his work within the JCC was the importance of collecting the viewpoints of the people he served. Sapolsky plans on applying that credo to his effort at the outreach center. The large portion of his work early on will consist of meeting with community members and hearing what they have to say — what services they would like the outreach center to provide. Reid plans on introducing Sapolsky to the community at an upcoming Sunday service.
“People want to feel like they own a piece of the rock. The more people we can get involved, the more I think success I think we might be able to have,” Sapolsky said.
Sapolsky will also work alongside Reid to foster conversations with both political and lay leaders in the community. Soon after accepting the role, Sapolsky sent an email to more than 100 people in the Jewish community. In the short time since, he has heard back from more than 60, half of which are already asking how they can help.
With backing from Jewish Baltimore, one of Sapolsky’s only remaining concerns was how he would be received in the African-American community. Reid, who said he hopes the partnership with Sapolsky will breed stronger relationships between the two groups going forward, swiftly put that issue to bed.
“Here I am, a Jewish white guy, working in a brand new community for me. The question I asked Dr. Reid twice [was], ‘How is that going to go down?’” Sapolsky said. “His answer twice was: ‘If I trust you, they’ll trust you. And if anybody gives you a hard time, I got your back.’ That’s all he had to say to me.”
David Snyder is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org