By Susie Luten
Immediate Past President of the Miriam Board of Directors
Ever since high school, Miriam has been part of my DNA. My mother was actively involved at the Miriam Shop on Delmar, the Switching Post on Forsyth, the Miriam School Board, a national officer of the United Order of True Sisters and a Miriam Past President. She made me a life member of Miriam before I was sixteen years old. Both my Mom and Dad gave generously to Miriam with their time and treasure teaching me early on how important it is to give back. As most of you already know, the Miriam organization was founded by my Mom’s grandmother, Fannie Landau, and that is why Miriam became near and dear to all of our hearts.
Before my Mom passed away, I promised her that I would stay involved with Miriam. Each time I walk into Miriam School, I am drawn towards photographs that hang in the entry. I obviously never knew Fannie Landau but it is really neat to see my Mom as a little girl sitting on the fence with her. I am always particularly struck by two pictures though. One is my Mom in front of the Switching Post with other Miriam volunteers and the other is of both Mom and Dad with hard hats on, shovels in hand, at the groundbreaking for the new school.
It is almost surreal that many many years later, I was the President of Miriam, I visit the Switching Post regularly, and I wore a hard hat a couple of weeks ago when I toured the new Academy building under renovation. Miriam is in my heart.
It is so wonderful for me to see that Miriam is in the hearts of so many. That is why, during these trying times, Miriam will not only survive but come out on top. The rich history of Miriam and its ability to meet the emerging needs of St Louis families with unique learners cements its place in our community.
When I became President two years ago, my main goal was to reinforce connectivity in the Miriam family. The development of the Strategic Plan which required countless listening sessions with each of Miriam’s stakeholders coupled with committees made up of representatives from all factions of Miriam was adopted in the late fall. From it came an updated mission statement, strategic initiatives for the entire Miriam constituency and an agreed upon list of core values and competencies which became a template for how the Miriam organization would operate.
At the same time that we were developing and finalizing our Strategic Plan, we began to clearly define the Miriam Brand. With new updated logos and colors for each Miriam entity, visible marketing, updated user-friendly websites and radio ads we were now better positioned to share our exemplary service delivery of our schools, learning center, and the Switching Post with the larger community. We clearly defined our many stakeholders – from our Board members, to our generous donors, to the directors, to the teaching staff, to the parents and most importantly to the students – all hopefully working together for a common goal, to serve our unique learners. For me, it was exciting to be President – watching all of this come to fruition.
The first year of my Presidency was also spent helping our team look for a new permanent location for the Academy. Doesn’t it seem like years ago when we were sitting in public hearings with the Village of Westwood? If you are a believer that everything happens for a reason, then it is not far fetched to think that we were meant to be matched up with the timely opportunity to acquire the Epstein Hebrew Academy and that it came together so quickly – they needed us as much as we needed them. We now have a place to call home for the Academy, and we will begin moving in at the end of this month! Our fundraising for the Academy building and renovation has been sensational – meeting all of our goals before starting on the public phase of the effort.
The organization was on a trajectory financially to end the 2020 fiscal year with a surplus. Then the pandemic hit and Miriam’s resolve was and continues to be tested in that regard. But as history will bear out, Miriam is resilient, resourceful, flexible and quite capable of dealing with change and adversity. Our teachers stepped up and created distance learning curriculums, our finance team worked tirelessly on plans, forecasts and strategies, and our executive board met weekly to help us stay on track. We raised over $60,000 on Give St. Louis Day to provide additional tuition assistance. 2020-2021 will certainly be challenging, but I know that Miriam has the right people and team in place to get through this uncertain time.
In closing, I want to thank Laurie Caro, our immediate past President, for her guidance during my 2-year term. To the current Board, thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve in this way and for being so responsive to all of our needs as they emerged – and for your commitment to Miriam. To the incoming Board, as I mentioned earlier, there will be many challenges – but Miriam is known for getting it done, and I know we will continue to do so. To the Executive Board, your commitment over the last 3-1/2 months has been amazing. It has been a team effort to navigate through new road maps as they appeared. To Katie, Nicole, Janine, Cyndi, Sue and Mary – getting to work with all of you made being President so special and rewarding. You are all so dedicated and talented – Miriam is lucky to have you. To Andy, I have enjoyed working closely with you. You have a magical way of bringing people together and an unshakable passion for Miriam. Thank you for your guidance and friendship. Finally, to Trish, over the years you have garnered the respect of so many in the Miriam family. Your knowledge and expertise as well as your calm demeanor will serve the organization well. You will be an amazing President.
My final wish is for Miriam to be ONE Miriam – and for all of us to continue to work together towards one common goal – to serve the needs of our unique learners and their families.