Joseph Zajdel has been around Baltimore all his life, and he understands there are a lot of needs in the city.
Zajdel, 37, grew up in Randallstown, attended Pikesville High School and lives in Stevenson with his wife, Lisa, and son, Bradley. He graduated from Towson University in 2002 with degrees in psychology and business administration and earned an M.B.A. from Loyola University. Today, he works as a commercial banker for First National Bank and is involved in philanthropic efforts through The Associated: Jewish Federation of Greater Baltimore and the United Way of Central Maryland.
“There are a lot of people who need help to make their lives and their communities better,” he said. “I work in the city and I grew up here, so I do my part to help.”
How did you get involved in philanthropy?
In 2008, I had just earned my M.B.A., and I was ready to go to market as a commercial banker. One of the things that attracted me to First National Bank is that they are actively involved in their communities. At the same time, I also went through the Baltimore Jewish Council’s leadership development program. That was my first foray into philanthropy and leadership. I wanted to find an opportunity but had no idea where to start. That’s where The Associated really helped me. I was involved with The Associated for about five years, through IMPACT. I still do work through the BJC, I still go to Associated events, and I still give.
How did you become involved with United Way?
I got invited to their first leadership conference in 2011 for Emerging Leaders United. I was building my professional network, and it was a great way for young professionals to get involved with philanthropy. The leadership conference helped open me up to all of the work that United Way does around the world, but specifically in Central Maryland. I found that I truly could impact an individual.
There were events such as Project Homeless Connect, where I would partner up with a homeless individual at the Convention Center and walk them through to see a dentist and a doctor and get IDs, Social Security cards, food and housing. Hundreds of vendors came out to help these homeless individuals and families get things that we take for granted. And I could see the impact right then and there, people crying because they were so happy. It usually takes time to have meaningful impact and change, but this is one of the few times that I really got to see it immediately.
I eventually became committee chair of Emerging Leaders United for two years. We helped grow it from 400 members to over 2,000. Today, I have moved up to Leaders United, the next giving level, and I am a chair of the executive council. Our goal is literally to do the same thing that we did for Emerging Leaders, to grow the membership. We want to bring change and do great things.
What are your plans for the immediate future?
There is a project called The Way Home. We are actually building a 12-unit apartment complex right at the corner of Pennsylvania and Argyle avenues. We will furnish it and have 12 families move in. It is an amazing thing. We are literally going to change the lives of these families. Homelessness causes so many other issues, and it’s going to take time to fix these issues. But [this] is a way to start, and it has an immediate impact. We’ve also been working [to get them] jobs. It is exciting. By September or October, we are hoping to have the families in there.
I also want to get more individuals involved with Leaders United, people who have no idea where to start [with philanthropy]. I try to be a connector, whether professionally or philanthropically, and I try to get other professionals involved. Every person I can get involved with a nonprofit or some sort of philanthropic change is another person who is helping us all achieve the same goal: to make Baltimore a great place to live and work.