Grandparent Ambassadors Draw in Peers with Personal Touch at JCC Detroit


This Passover, the Jewish Grandparents Network spotlights the Grandparent Ambassadors of the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit. Terry Kaye, JGN’s Director of Creative Partnerships, spoke with the JCC’s Mikki Frank, Senior Director of Jfamily, and Judy Loebl, Chief Program Officer.

How has the JCC of Metropolitan Detroit pivoted and adapted in recent years?

Our JCC is going through a transformation—from building-centric to program-centric planning. Our goal is to really get to know our community, share ideas, have real conversations about wants and needs, and bring our programs to where people are. We put our community members first. We serve at least 93 zip codes in the Detroit area and partner on several hundred programs a year with local synagogues, Jewish Federation, community organizations, and universities.

You created a program called Jfamily. Tell us about it.

Jfamily’s mission is to elevate relational engagement in Detroit Jewish life among families, parents, and grandparents. The program includes our flagship offerings: JBaby, JTeen, PJ Library, JScreen Detroit and JGrand. In addition to targeted events, we plan large Jewish events for the whole family. You can learn more here:

What are Grandparent Ambassadors?

The program is powered by our PJ Library Detroit program and is supported by Susie and Norman Pappas in addition to the generous support of the following foundations: The Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, The A. Alfred Taubman Foundation, and The H.W. Kaufman Family Support Foundation.

As a part of the JGrand initiative, we hired Grandparent Ambassadors in September 2021. The idea was for grandparents to reach out to other grandparents, and invite them for everything from JCC programs, park playdates, to coffee dates.

When we began, we thought we would hire one Grandparent Ambassador. Grandparents loved the idea (one grandparent applied ten days after their first grandchild was born). There was so much interest we decided to split the role and hire three Ambassadors, paying each a stipend for the year for two-to-three hours of work a week. Already they’ve connected with 280 grandparents through the JGrand program.

Why hire Grandparent Ambassadors rather than enlist volunteers?

The Grandparent Ambassador position is a job, a commitment. It’s a responsibility with accountability. Our Grandparent Ambassadors love working part-time; they have a real sense of pride.

How did the role of Grandparent Ambassadors evolve?

The idea came from our Jfamily Parent Connector model powered by PJ Library (paid parent connectors work ten hours a week). Parent Connectors reach out to families and develop relationships with them, with the goal of connecting them to other families, to the JCC, and the larger Detroit Jewish community based on their needs.

We learned from our families that our grandparent community wanted a similar type of engagement and connection. We began by conducting focus groups to see what programs and services grandparents needed. We heard that grandparents were seeking fun, social ways to spend time with their grandchildren, and they were interested in learning about savvy grandparenting practices from local experts.

We put out a call to hire our Grandparent Ambassadors and then we hired the JGrand Coordinator to develop these programs to meet the need.

Magic Show 44

What sort of staffing is required to create a Grandparent Ambassador program?

The JCC hired a ten-hour-a-week JGrand Coordinator who is dedicated to grandparent programming.  It’s key to have oversight by a professional whose core focus is grandparents.

What are some of the methods and tools Grandparent Ambassadors use to connect to other grandparents?

Here are some ways we draw in grandparents:

  • Ask Ambassadors to recruit grandparents from their personal circle of friends.
  • Call and email grandparents who attend our general Jfamily programming.
  • Arrange coffee dates or playdates to help grandparents meet each other.
  • Deliver our Grand Bags — a gift from JFamily for grandparents with grandbabies.
  • Personalize the outreach (“I know you care a lot about volunteering in the community … this program may interest you.”)
  • Developed a strong social media group.

Tell us about the Grand Bags.

Grandparent Ambassadors hand-deliver a “Grand” Bag when a grandchild is born to grandparents in the community. The gift bag contains fun items, such as an unbuckle-me tool (to help with releasing car seat buckles), a memory book, a tzedakah box from our Women’s Philanthropy partners at the Detroit Federation, a custom burp cloth, a picture book, and a Jfamily rubber duckie. Grandparent Ambassadors then follow up with invites to upcoming programs and events.

Each bag costs us about $25, and so far we’ve distributed about a hundred. We’re exploring inviting local businesses to sponsor the bags or pay to include advertising in the bags.  

How will Grandparent Ambassadors be involved in Passover events?

As we planned our Passover activities, we upped our projections knowing that we would have more grandparents.

Grandparent Ambassadors will be working at the inter-generational Matzah Factory event. They will welcome families and connect with grandparents.

We are also providing at-home Passover kits called “It’s in the Bag,” a keepsake family art project to adorn families’ Seder tables. Grandparents in our community really love these kits as they provide an opportunity to do Jewish with their grandchildren at home. 

What advice do you have for other organizations wanting to adopt the Grandparent Ambassador model?

  1. Start by asking grandparents in your community, “What do you need?” “What do you want?” through focus groups and get togethers.
  2. Involve grandparents in on-the-ground planning. Focus on issues grandparents care about, for example, Covid, new approaches to safe sleep, potty training, academic challenges, teen relationships, etc.
  3. Hire or assign a dedicated coordinator.
  4. Track success carefully, assess metrics, follow up.
  5. Offer an enticement, something physical—for example, a Grand Bag. This gives the Grandparent Ambassadors a simple tool to reach out and connect.

For more information about the Grandparent Ambassador program, contact Mikki Frank,

Photographic Credits
Banner courtesy of wirestock/Freepik

All other photographs courtesy of Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit