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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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Laughing with Joan

I made Joan Rivers laugh.

Of course she made me laugh, like she did to millions of others through her decades-long, often unfiltered, and ever-funny career, but yes, I made Joan Rivers laugh.

At the time, I was working at the celebrity-obsessed New York Post, and as the features writer for its women’s section, I had reason to ring up the raspy-voiced, Brooklyn-born blonde for a quickie. I had to grab a quote for some story that I was writing. As I recall, the conversation had turned to food, a favorite subject of the Jewish woman on my end of the phone, and, apparently, of that Jewish woman on the other end as well. Joan told me that she just adored the creamed spinach served at the legendary Brooklyn restaurant, Peter Luger’s — a must-have accompaniment to its famous and robust steaks. Joan told me she would dine there with a hairdresser-to-the-stars, the late Kenneth Battelle. (She kept her physique petite with this practice: She never ate anything after 3 p.m. If she did find herself dining with someone, she popped Altoids to keep her mouth busy.)

 

Cookin’ it up!

Tales of a Teaneck kitchen prodigy

How did 12-year-old Eitan Bernath of Teaneck come to be on the Food Network’s popular cooking show “Chopped”?

“He’s always been curious and he likes science,” said his mother, Sabrina Bernath. “He thinks it’s cool to mix flavors and watch things rise. He also likes to make people happy,” she added, pointing out that he had just brought his friends a freshly baked batch of cinnabuns.

For Eitan, a student at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, cooking is more than just a hobby. Struggling for the right word, the fledgling chef — whose website, cookwithchefeitan.com, will launch this week — described his relationship with the culinary arts as a “passion.”

 

Policies are the best policy

Teaneck synagogue forum addresses child sexual abuse

Does your synagogue have policies in place to protect children from sexual abuse? Do your children’s schools and camps?

Such policies, Dr. Shira Berkovits told a meeting in Teaneck on Sunday night, can make a difference to children’s safety.

Dr. Berkovits is a consultant for the Department of Synagogue Services at the Orthodox Union, and she is developing a guide to preventing child sexual abuse in synagogues. She was speaking at Teaneck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael, as part of a panel on preventing child sexual abuse co-sponsored by three other Teaneck Orthodox congregations: Netivot Shalom, Keter Torah, and Lubavitch of Bergen County.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Pascrell, Paul face off

Dr. Dierdre Paul, a 49-year-old Montclair State University professor, faces an uphill battle against Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., the 77-year-old nine-term Democratic incumbent in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District.

In a candidate’s forum Monday night at the Community Baptist Church in Englewood, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Bergen County chapter of the NAACP, Dr. Paul said that she has not been a Republican for very long.

In fact, in 2008 she had been the Englewood chair of the Obama campaign. “No one hoped more than me that the president would succeed,” she said. “Even as late as 2012 I tried to maintain that hope and faith in the Democratic party. Instead, it was the African American base masking the same old Democratic policies.

“We have a failed war on poverty, a failed war on drugs,” she continued. “Why does the Democratic establishment feel they only need to show up in election time? People are hurting now.”

Mr. Pascrell opened by saying that his “first objective in Congress is to keep us safe. I solemnly swear to each one of you that I will keep us safe against foreign enemies and any domestic enemies who want to take advantage of us.”

 

RCA responds to scandal

Englewood rabbi to head committee looking into conversion process

Shmuel Goldin, the senior rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, has agreed to chair a new committee the Rabbinical Council of America is convening to review its conversion process.

Rabbi Goldin also is the RCA’s immediate past president.

The committee includes 11 members; six are RCA-member rabbis and five are women. Two of the women are converts, one is a yoetzet halacha — an advisor in Jewish law — and one is a psychotherapist.

The committee has been established in response to the arrest of one of the RCA’s members, Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel: The Georgetown Synagogue, in Washington, D.C. (Rabbi Freundel’s RCA membership has been suspended in response to the arrest, and he has been suspended from his job, without pay.) The shul arguably is the most prestigious Orthodox synagogue in the nation’s capital, and Rabbi Freundel’s arrest, for videoing some of his conversion candidates with a camera hidden inside a clock radio as they stripped for the mikvah, has been profoundly disturbing, both within the Kesher community and outside it.

 

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Support groups for people with mood disorders to open in Paramus

A person who has a mood disorder has a chronic, manageable condition.

She is not lazy, not immoral, not self-indulgent. She is not suffering from some embarrassing unmentionable syndrome. She is just one of a large number of people whose body chemistry plunges her into the black hole of depression, or is one of the smaller but not insignificant group of people who swing between that hole and a fierce but unsustainable elation that takes them up into the blue sky until they crash again.

There is a stigma attached to having a mood disorder, though, that makes it hard to address, to attack, to subdue, to co-exist with.

Dena Cohen of Teaneck, a writer, editor, and social activist who writes under her maiden name, Dena Croog, knows this territory well. An op ed contributor to this newspaper, she introduced it to our readers on February 13, when her column, “I have bipolar disorder,” was printed and almost immediately went viral.

 
 
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