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This Springboard in Swim of Helping Out

August 9, 2007
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Darren Sudman and Roy Felgoise on board
The image of a springboard in action is a forceful one, as the power-packed mechanism works to lift objects well off the ground and high into the air.

And the idea of a springboard figuratively vigorously propels the aspirations and dreams of people, as well, to higher, greater, newer, brighter levels.

That is precisely the concept and message behind a new organization, Springboard of Plymouth Whitemarsh, that puts the perception of a springboard's crafted strength, flexibility and pent-up energy to literal use to give a boost to those most in need in Montgomery County's Colonial School District.

"It's all about springing into action, if you will, to help wherever need arises within the community with a Jewish tilt, but not always necessarily Jewish," said Bruce Risler of Risler Financial Management in Conshohocken, an original and now regular Springboard member, who confided that the group was founded "without a lot of structure, just the central idea of being a springboard for help."

While its initial purpose was to address any need wherever and whenever, its first focus is at a grass-roots level, noted the group's co-founders, Darren Sudman, a real estate developer and a manager of "Simon's Fund," a nonprofit that honors the memory of Sudman's infant son who died suddenly of a little-known but treatable heart defect; and in-coming president Roy Felgoise, a partner in Managed Care Consultants, an employee-benefits firm in Devon.

The group's bylaws, according to Risler, state that members have to be "Jewish males who live in Plymouth Township." But Springboard strives to be "inclusionary, not exclusionary," he continued, "so the defining traits of membership are somewhat more broadly followed."

Beyond that, Risler envisions a time when "perhaps Springboard will be open to all good men, all good people who want to help others to perform a mitzvah."

Three acts of care by the organization demonstrate its far-reaching concern. First, there is the help rendered to Ciara Kelly Higgins, a 3-year-old (at the time) with cerebral palsy who received personal checks that totaled $2,000 from Springboard's men, even before there was an official membership, and $1,000 in donated items from an auction at Plymouth Country Club in September 2006.

"Speaking before the 500 people gathered there -- 95 percent of whom weren't Jewish -- to talk about the desire to help Ciara and her family was one of the most satisfying moments for us so far," acknowledged Risler.

Military Operation
Another example of timely assistance was through "Operation Bedding/Adam Conboy Memorial Fund" (www.adamconboymemorialfund.org). More than $2,000 was donated to ship needed supplies -- notably dozens of pillows and boxes of moist wipes (the most needed and most requested items) -- to soldiers in Iraq.

This cause is being considered as an ongoing Springboard effort, agreed Risler, Sudman and Felgoise. Conboy, a lance corporal in the Marines and Roxborough resident, was killed in the war.

"I was very pleasantly surprised by an e-mail from Springboard about their interest in supporting 'Operation Bedding,' which was my son's idea. Springboard's members willingly and generously donated their time and money. I cannot express my appreciation enough; they are an amazing group of men, especially in today's society," said Mary Conboy, Adam's mother.

In a third instance of compassionate action, Springboard came to the assistance of another local family, whose home was destroyed by fire. The family received gift cards to Target and other local businesses to buy food, clothing and other necessities until they got back on their feet.

In all, about a half-dozen families have been helped since Springboard began, noted Felgoise.

"I love the idea that what we do helps to improve the community and create better relations," Risler said, adding that the group doesn't discriminate in those it assists.

Springboard's founding notion took shape aboard an Amtrak train as Sudman and Felgoise were returning from a Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia lobbying trip they had attended in Washington in May 2005. As the train traveled north to 30th Street, they discussed and wondered, "Where are the men?"

"They looked around and saw that there were no other 30-somethings, as they were, on the trip, and that there were no other men from Colonial (School District) on the trip. Since Springboard got under way officially in late 2006, 94 men have joined!" announced Risler.

"There are hundreds of young, family-aged, family-oriented Jewish men living in our school district. Many of them belong to synagogues. They cover most of the professional spectrum, including financial, real estate, law, medicine, business and insurance. Our common bond is family, Judaism and the Colonial School District," commented Felgoise, adding that members meet quarterly.

About 50 to 60 men come out to help at any event, he added.

Explained Risler: "We are linking synagogue members from different shuls together, and [also] creating an affiliation of sorts for those who are currently unaffiliated with a particular congregation. In so doing, we are bringing the Jewish community ever closer while helping the entire community."

A tzedakah committee has been established to handle requests for assistance, said Risler. "Typically, a member hears of a need and brings it to the board, where it's referred to the committee for its recommendation of assistance and in what amount.

"In true grass-roots fashion, local residents and clergy are encouraged to bring the needs of others to our attention," added Sudman.

Risler explained that Springboard's funds are raised through dues and the generosity of members, with more than two-thirds of the money going to charitable efforts in the community; the balance is used to cover administrative costs

For more information, call 610-613-6518.

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