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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


March 25, 2016  RSS feed
Social Services

Text: T T T

Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services new CEO took difficult path to successful career

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Dr. Sandra E. Braham Dr. Sandra E. Braham Dr. Sandra E. Braham, who began her new job March 21 as president and CEO of Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services, knows first-hand the importance of some of the social services her new agency provides.

When Braham was 15 years old, she said her mother began showing signs of schizophrenia and as the delusions increased, her mom failed to get help. Due to family financial problems and her mom’s mental health problem, Braham wound up in a foster home for two years, from ages 15- 17. Even after she was out of foster care, her path to a good education and career success was not an easy one.

Braham was born and raised in St. Louis and it was only through scholarships, grants and holding down a job while also attending college that she earned a degree in biology from the University of Missouri. She later earned her doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Texas, El Paso.

Because of her background, and because she knows how hard it is for people to seek and to receive mental health assistance, her new job holds special meaning for her and is a big reason why she is happy to lead the social service agency. Braham said she is particularly passionate about providing behavioral health services for those with mental health issues, and will be heavily involved in that program.

“I feel I am called to do this,” she said.

Braham will be responsible for overseeing more than 500 staff members from Gulf Coast’s headquarters in Clearwater. The agency has 67 different nonsectarian social service programs in a 37-county service area including the Tampa Bay area.

Gulf Coast’s programs protect abused and neglected children, help newly arrived refugees resettle in the United States, assist the unemployed with jobs and life skills and provide a continuum of services for the elderly and disabled in communities across Florida. The agency also offers internationally recognized models of community-based care for those with serious medical, physical and psychiatric disabilities.

Within its Jewish Family Services programming that primarily services Pinellas and Pasco Counties, Gulf Coast offers child mentoring, counseling and emergency assistance to those in need Other services include its Holocaust Survivor Program, which provides essential care to help improve the quality of life for Holocaust survivors throughout West Central Florida.

Gulf Coast, Braham said, “has a mission that aligns with my values, and they have led in many ways to support those who are most vulnerable. I am looking forward to engaging with a very capable team to keep contributing to positive change in my new home community.”

She noted that the agency already has a good strategic plan and she looks forward to implementing it. ”I hope to grow the awareness of what we do and to look for opportunities to share our story, who we are, what we do, and how we impact lives in the state,” Braham said.

“We took our time, conducted a thorough process and vetted several qualified candidates,” said Jay Miller, Gulf Coast’s board chair. “Dr. Braham was chosen unanimously by our internal audiences, who are impressed with her proven leadership, her desire to contribute to a healthy internal culture and her willingness to advocate on behalf of the communities we serve.”

Braham replaces Interim President/CEO Eric Feder, who has held the position since shortly after the Dec. 18, 2014 slaying of Gulf Coast’s former CEO and President Rochelle Tatrai-Ray, who was the victim of a murder-suicide at the hands of her former husband.

Braham brings more than 20 years of leadership experience in the not-for-profit sector. Most recently, she served for 10 years as chief executive officer of the Young Women’s Christian Association, El Paso del Norte Region, the largest YWCA in the nation. In this role, she led 450 employees, managed an annual budget of more than $30 million and supported a $9 million foundation.

Prior to joining the YWCA, Braham served in the capacities of associate vice provost for undergraduate studies and assistant vice president for outreach programs at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) from 1992 to 2006. At UTEP, she secured more than $20 million in federal and state grants focused on helping low-income youth access, enroll in and succeed in higher education. Braham said she also taught some educational leadership classes at UTEP.

Though Braham had visited Florida a few times, she had never been to the Gulf Coast area of the state until seeking her new post. She said she is looking forward to exploring all the area offers. After spending many years in the El Paso area, where they generally get about 3 inches of rain per year, she says it will take some getting used to the humid Tampa Bay area. “I am loving the area and loving being around the water. This is a wonderful and exciting change,” she said.

Braham and her husband have three children, two in college and one in the Air Force. She said her husband was lucky to be able to transfer from his U.S. Postal Service job in Texas to one locally and started his new job here a week before hers began.

When asked what or who she credits for overcoming the barriers and hardships she faced to reach the position she is now in, her response was immediate, and brief: “Grace,” she said. “I credit it to God’s grace.”

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