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SCORE-ing big for small businesses

 
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After he retired from his job as a financial specialist, Fair Lawn resident Howard Sirota, a long-time member of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, tried playing tennis and bridge.

“It was fun,” he said, “but I wanted to give something back to the community.”

For the past 15 years, he has been doing exactly that, serving as a mentor for the Bergen County chapter of SCORE, based in Hackensack.

Formerly known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, SCORE is a nonprofit association that helps small businesses get off the ground, grow, and achieve their goals, says Lewis Marchiona, chairman of SCOREBergen.

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Harvey Starr shares his 35 years of experience. SCORE

The group, which helps businesses through education and mentorship, is supported by the Small Business Administration. With some 13,000 volunteers in chapters throughout the country, the 50-year-old organization has seen the demand for its services rise as the economy has worsened.

“The demand has increased with the bad economy,” Marchiona said. “It started to spike about three years ago.”

Sirota estimates that he has counseled about 200 people. He said he derives great satisfaction from his volunteer work, which sometimes consumes as much as five hours a week.

“When I help some people go into business, I feel very good about it,” he said. But he’s also gratified when he can prevent people from making a mistake and spending their life savings on a business they know nothing about.

“The most important thing is to listen,” he said. “It takes trainees a few months to learn how to do that. I tell them to listen to other [mentors] and listen to the client.”

The mentor said he is learning constantly from his fellow counselors.

“You always learn from other people,” he said. “Everyone brings something else to the table. There’s so much knowledge over there. We can help a business if there’s enough time.”

Sometimes there isn’t, he said, pointing to one client who approached them for help after he already had used up his savings.

Sirota pointed out that with the large number of Jews in Bergen County, it’s not surprising that many of SCORE’s clients are Jewish.

“You get a lot of Jews with problems,” he said. “They may be out of a job. While we can’t find one for them, I may suggest that they get a part-time job in an area they’re interested in.”

Most of the clients he sees are interested in starting a business.

“You have to question them to see if they’re capable of going into business or if they’ll just lose their money,” he said. “It takes one or two sessions to find out. You tell them everything they’ll have to know — marketing, finance, purchasing, etc. — and tell them nicely if they won’t be successful.”

Sirota said people also come because they need a job or don’t like their current jobs or want to make a change in their lives.

“They may have a little bit of money saved up. They may not understand that when they start a business, it’s a total commitment. An idea is not enough,” he said. “They have to know how to execute it, solve problems, and think on their feet.”

“It’s rough for some people,” he said. “Many have been out of a job for a long time and the only thing left is to start a business when they’re middle-aged.”

While he doesn’t want to dampen their enthusiasm, he is convinced that for many, it’s the wrong thing to do.

“If I can help them save money by not going into business, it’s a small victory,” he said.

Harvey Starr, also of Fair Lawn, who belongs to Barnert Temple, has been a SCORE counselor for 15 years as well.

“When I retired, I took a year to find out what things I wanted to do,” he said. “I tried various things. This is one of the things that worked.”

Like Sirota, he was prompted to join the group because “I had 35 years of experience and want to share it so people don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Every once in a while, you reach a client who brings you satisfaction, so you come back and do more.”

Starr — whose pre-retirement job was financing machinery for all kinds of businesses — said the usual kind of client is someone who is starting a business or has just gotten one off the ground.

“Basically, I let them talk,” he said. “Somewhere in their talk, I’ll pick up inklings of the solution. Often, they know what the problem is [but] they don’t know that they do.”

Occasionally, he said, he gets a “pleasant surprise, where you can really make a difference in their lives.”

One client was approached by a large company to sell his business but turned down the offer. The would-be purchaser then set up a competing business across the street, selling the same products at a lower cost. By the time the client came to SCORE, he was losing a great deal of money.

Starr said he understood the client’s anguish, having lived through a similar situation.

“It took six weeks to get him to understand what he was enduring and come to the obvious conclusion, which was there from the start,” said the counselor. “One day he said he really didn’t have a choice.”

Six months later, the client called Starr to thank him for helping him remake his life.

The mentor, who estimates that he spends about three hours a week counseling clients, said the faltering economy has produced some “tearjerkers,” with people of middle age being let go after 25 years with the same company.

“It’s sad to watch these people dipping into savings, getting into something they don’t know much about. They take, or don’t take, my advice. They may listen to the advice of relatives [instead], and it doesn’t work.”

People can come back as often as they want and counseling is free. In addition, Starr said, clients who are not satisfied with their counselor can request another.

“People at SCORE have nothing to prove,” Starr said. “If we can’t help, we reach out to another mentor in another discipline.”

He pointed out that his fellow volunteers are successful people in their own right.

“They bring the expertise; we counsel them in how to use it.”

Describing SCORE as “a resource partner of the Small Business Administration,” Marchiona noted that the Hackensack office was founded 40 years ago and now has about 41 volunteer mentors.

“They run the full gamut,” he said, “retired, semi-retired, and those who are active in business but still donate time.”

Mentors combine about 500 different specialties, from financial banking experience to manufacturing, and the group sees about 1,100 clients a year. In addition to counseling, it offers low-cost workshops on topics ranging from social media to sales management. [For a full listing of workshops, go to SCOREBergen.org.]

“A special thing we offer is a program for people thinking about starting a business,” he said. Called Simple Steps, the five-week program meets every Monday night and “is heavily staffed with mentors who sit close by the participants and help them through the program.”

Workshops are offered free of charge to veterans and members of their families.

Marchione said the mentors, all Bergen County residents, take on the challenge because “with all this talent and experience, it’s a mortal sin not to pass it on to people. There’s a real rush of satisfaction when you’re talking to someone and you can see the light coming on.”

For more information about SCORE, go to SCORE.org.

 
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What did he know? When did he know it?

State Senate majority leader Loretta Weinberg discusses GWB scandal interim report

On Monday, the New Jersey state legislative committee investigating Bridgegate submitted an interim report.

Anyone expecting a final answer to the question of what did he know and when did he know it — or to be more specific, how much did Governor Chris Christie know about the closure of the three local lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge, creating potentially lethal havoc in Fort Lee, and when did he learn that his aides had been responsible for it — would be disappointed.

Still, there are nuggets there about the scandal, lying ready for gleaning.

This is very much an interim report, Loretta Weinberg stressed. Ms. Weinberg, a Democrat, is the state Senate’s majority leader. She lives in Teaneck, and Fort Lee is in her district.

 

Reworded interdating rules sow confusion, controversy

United Synagogue Youth convention may have eased standard … or not

What’s in a name — or a word?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Take the word “refrain,” for example.

At its annual international convention in Atlanta this week, some 750 members of United Synagogue Youth voted to change some of the wording in the organization’s standards for international and regional leaders.

Most of the changes are clear, easily understood, and warmly welcomed. For example, the group added provisions relating to bullying and lashon hara — gossiping. Leaders should have “zero tolerance” for such behavior, the standards say.

 

Not just blah-blah-blah and pizza

Mahwah shul develops programming for pre- and post-b’nai mitzvah kids

So now there’s a how-to-write-a-blessing class. “The parents are really appreciative,” Rabbi Mosbacher said.

“I used to meet with b’nai mitzvah kids and their families twice,” he added. “Now we meet seven times in the course of a year. The last one is right before the bar mitzvah. Now I’m thinking the last one should be after the bar mitzvah. It’s a lot of time on my part, but it’s time well spent in developing a relationship with the kids and with the families.”

While these efforts are designed to connect children and their families to the congregation before the bar or bat mitzvah, the synagogue also has changed its post-b’nai mitzvah connections to the children.

 

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When they face a medical emergency, people call 911, and an ambulance is dispatched immediately. That system indisputably saves lives. But the EMT technicians inside those ambulances must negotiate snarled traffic, dangerous intersections, careless pedestrians, callous drivers, and other road hazards. Valuable minutes are lost.

What to do?

In Jersey City, Mayor Steven Fulop has a solution — and it comes straight from Israel.

The city is joining forces with United Hatzalah and the Jersey City Medical Center — Barnabas Health to form Community Based Emergency Care. That is a bland name for a clever new program aimed at bridging the gap between the time that an emergency is called in and when the cavalry — the EMTs and their ambulance full of equipment — can show up. It will use a combination of human passion and goodwill and technology to meet that goal.

 

Don’t bogart that joint — at least not on Shabbat

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Just because 22 states have legalized medical marijuana, does that make it completely kosher in the eyes of Jewish law?

This timely topic will be one of the issues explored during “Torah, Text, and Tradition: An Evening of Learning and Sharing,” set to take place from 7 to 9:45 p.m. on January 31 at Fair Lawn’s Congregation Shomrei Torah, 19-10 Morlot Avenue.

Nine members of the Orthodox congregation are offering lectures grouped into three time slots. There are three choices in each slot, providing a smorgasbord of options free of charge to men, women, and teenagers from the greater community.

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An American rabbi in Paris

NYU’s Rabbi Yehuda Sarna talks about France to local shuls

Two weeks ago, when four Jews were killed in a terrorist attack at a kosher supermarket in Paris, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna decided to go to Paris to visit and comfort the community

Rabbi Sarna leads the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at New York University — the school’s equivalent of a Hillel chapter.

As a native of Montreal, he speaks French. And as a disciple and former intern of Rabbi Avi Weiss, his reaction to a crisis is: “When you feel a personal connection and likely nobody else will be there, just go.”

So two weeks ago, shortly before Shabbat, he posted plans to go to Paris on his Facebook page. Within half an hour, he had found a group of people interested in going with him.

 
 
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