Alumni Spotlight: Steve Kaufman and His Journey Into Community Service

Leon Fooksman
Leadership Palm Beach County
March 24, 2016

Steve Kaufman wanted to help his community. So he went through LPBC’s Engage Class of 2011 and learned about the challenges facing Palm Beach County.

 

And then Steve sprang into action. He started a new community service initiative at his company, organizing his associates to do community service projects for organizations Steve was exposed to during the LPBC program.

 

This was just the start of his journey to do public good.

 

Read his inspiring leadership story below.

 

 

What’s your background and why did you decide to go through the LPBC program?

 

Steve Kaufman: I was born and raised in Miami-Dade County and have lived in Florida most of my life.  I moved to Palm Beach County (Boca Raton) in 2003 to take a job in the real estate development division of a national home builder.  I feel very fortunate that my professional background has been diverse and challenging.  At various points in my career I have worked on utility-scale, international energy projects as a project manager, I was a financial analyst, a residential real estate developer, a vacation resort developer, a renewable energy project developer and a construction lawyer.  I was vice president and general counsel of a large commercial construction company based in Boca Raton before moving over to the nonprofit sector in my current role as executive director of Temple Beth El of Boca Raton.  Temple Beth El is the largest reform synagogue in Florida and is almost as complicated to run as any company I’ve worked for.   

 

I decided to go through Leadership Palm Beach County in 2010-2011 based on the recommendation of my friend Adi Rappoport who had already been through the program.  At that point in my career I was active in legislative affairs, trying to get more legislation passed that would promote renewable energy.  My hope was that this program would expose me to influential people in the county who could help me advance my renewable energy mission.  Little did I know that it would have a much more profound impact on my career.

 

What impact did your experience in the program have on you professionally and personally?

 

Steve Kaufman: The biggest surprise for me was how much of the program was focused on community service agencies and the significant needs of those who are less fortunate in our community. I remember coming home from Health and Human Services Day and being really moved by what I saw going on in Palm Beach County.  I had incorrectly assumed that LPBC was mostly about business networking but that is so far from the truth.  The program really is about training our community leaders to make a positive impact on the County.

 

After I graduated from the program, I started a new community service initiative at the company I was working for at the time.  Three to four times per year, I would organize a group of associates to go out and do a community service project. We supported several of the organizations that I was exposed to through Leadership Palm Beach County.  It was a terrific team building exercise and it made our staff feel good that the company they worked for was doing something positive for the local community beyond just giving money.

 

Because of your experience in LPBC, are you getting more involved as a leader in the community? If so, how? 

 

Steve Kaufman: As a result of this new community service initiative that I had spearheaded at my company, I started to think more and more about the nonprofit sector.  I began to question whether I should use the skills I had acquired throughout my career for a more meaningful purpose -- something that would give me fulfillment beyond profitability.  It was around that same time that my synagogue, Temple Beth El of Boca Raton, was searching for a new executive director and the senior rabbi asked me if I might be interested in applying for the job.  I have never been a particularly religious individual so the idea of working for a religious institution had never even crossed my mind.  Additionally, I was very happy where I was working and so I was not looking to make a move.  When I learned more about the position, however, I slowly realized that perhaps this was a job where I could use my business and legal background to help an organization that makes a real difference in people’s lives every day.  I have been the executive director at Beth El for over three years now and I love what I do.

 

Why would you recommend the program to others in our community?

 

Steve Kaufman: I would highly recommend Leadership Palm Beach County to anyone interested in taking an exciting adult journey.  I would caution those who are interested merely to generate business leads or develop new clients.  That is not what this program is about. If you are genuinely interested in improving the quality of life Palm Beach County and you are willing to make a commitment to effectuating change, then you will love this program.  If you merely want business networking, get involved in your local Chamber of Commerce or professional association.