For nearly ten years, Matthew Birt has been a leader at The LJD Jewish Family & Community Services. As Program Director of At Hope Youth and Associate Director of Achievers For Life, Matt supports and empowers children and families throughout Northeast Florida.
At Hope Youth, also known as our Diversion program, provides at-risk youth an alternative to the formal juvenile justice system and services based on their individual needs. At Hope Youth involves case management, goal-building, law education, and immersive mock trials to prevent future delinquency. In addition to rehabilitating youth learning from their mistakes, Matt supports children and their families through the Achievers For Life program. Achievers For Life provides family support, mentors, and academic assistance for students exhibiting early warning signs of academic failure and dropping out. In his previous role as a Family Assessment Support Team (FAST) therapist, he provided intensive supervision and services aimed at stabilizing families.
While he continues to shine a light in children’s lives, we aim to shine a light on Matt in our first entry of Staff Spotlight.
Q: How long have you been an employee at JFCS? What is your role? Have you had any past roles at JFCS?
Matt: It’ll be ten years in June. My current title is the Associate Director of the Achievers For Life (AFL) Program. I’m also the Program Director of the At Hope Youth & Family Program. I initially started in June of 2013 as a FAST Therapist. I was in the home doing therapy with families who were in the FAST program.
Q: How did you find your way to JFCS?
Matt: I found my way to JFCS working with families and kids, and someone said, ‘Have you ever thought about working for JFCS?’ I didn’t know a lot about the agency at the time, but I really wanted to work with kids. So, I applied for it and got the position!
Q: What do you enjoy most about working with JFCS?
Matt: I just love the agency. I enjoy making change: empowering coworkers, families, changing policies and procedures… I’m the type of person who gets along with everyone, but I hold people accountable at the same time. That’s a tricky balance, but that’s what JFCS allows us to do.
Q: What challenges do you face in your position, and how do you overcome them?
Matt: Well, each challenge is different. For Achievers For Life, it’s finding people willing to go into the school system and work with kids. It’s a collaborative effort, and you really have to find the right fit for the program. For At Hope Youth, the challenge is that it’s a very new program. We’re in our second year and it’s a year-to-year program, so sustainability – getting folks to join and stay – is a challenge.
Q: What is your favorite memory from working at JFCS?
Matt: Wow, there’s so many. I enjoy seeing the wish lists, the gift giving, the donating to families… I came from a single-parent home. My mom didn’t have the funds or resources for lots of Christmas presents. As a child, I remember going to toy-giving parties at the Coliseum. For Christmas back then, you went through a line and they gave you something. I see (the gift giving) here, on the level that it is, it’s so impactful. When I see how we’re giving the kids what they asked for… Wow.
Q: What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in your work at JFCS?
Matt: My greatest accomplishment is working in three different programs at JFCS: I started with FAST, came to AFL, and now I’m doing At Hope too – being successful in all three programs. It’s rare to make a difference at every stop you go to, and I think that’s my greatest accomplishment. It requires teamwork too. With the FAST team, you’re teaming with therapists, case managers, and supervisors. AFL works with the family and achievement advocates. The Diversion program/At Hope is working with Teen Court and DCPS.
Q: How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
Matt: It’s kind of changed now. I used to coach basketball, football – I coached everything. My son passed in 2021. When he was going through chemo and wasn’t able to play baseball anymore, I asked him, ‘You want to help me coach?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I really want to do that.’ So, my goal is to one day get back into coaching… Right now, I like music, sports, and relaxing by the water.
Q: Why should people invest in the JFCS mission of “helping people help themselves?
Matt: We do so much. We work with different entities in the community, so if people want to give back, they can give to high-risk newborns, schools, dependency, foster care, Holocaust survivors, financial assistance, the food pantry, the clothing closet… You can give to all those programs and make a difference. If someone pours into JFCS, they know they’re making a difference because all our dollars are going to families and empowering them.
Matt’s efforts in Achievers For Life and At Hope Youth undoubtedly shape the lives of our new generation, especially those that are marginalized and disenfranchised. His passion for youth success authentically depicts the JFCS mission of “helping people help themselves.”