Renee St. John joined Jewish Collaborative Services on Dec. 30, as the agency’s new Chief Financial Officer (CFO). A native of Attleboro, MA, Renee, who lives now in Cranston, RI, earned her accounting degree from Bryant University. We interviewed Renee by phone to learn more about her background and her position as JCS’ CFO where she also oversees the finances for Tamarisk Assisted Living Residence and Shalom I and Shalom II affordable housing complexes.
Q: Why did you go into accounting? What was the appeal for you?
A: I took an accounting class in high school; I thought accounting was something that I could do as an enjoyable career. Once I learned that I could do accounting for nonprofit organizations, I have worked exclusively with such organizations, as they are trying to do something good for the world, rather than focusing on the ‘almighty buck.’ In addition to my professional work with nonprofits, I serve on the Rhode Island Community Food Bank board and Finance Committee.
Q: You have extensive experience with senior positions at Kahn Litwin, Renza & Co., and Community Care Alliance (CCA). What drew you to join JCS?
A: I am not Jewish, but I have many Jewish friends. I like the core values of the Jewish faith, especially that of community, kehillah, which was a draw for me. I also wanted to become more educated about Jewish values and JCS, like CCA, where I most recently worked, is an all-inclusive agency. Nine times out of 10, we have resources that can help people in need. If you have a bill collector knocking on your door and you need rental or utility bill relief, we can help you. If you need help with emotional issues, our Counseling Center can help you, too. It makes no sense to work with someone to help ease their anxieties or depression and ignore their need for resources for food and utilities; at JCS, we help the whole individual.
Q: What were some of your key accomplishments in your first few months, and how has COVID now impacted your work? What are your responsibilities as CFO?
A: In my first couple of months, I was learning the organization and staff and wrapping up last year’s audit; once COVID-19 hit, everything changed. My predecessor, Merelise Hitte, had been working on merging the finances of Jewish Family Service and Jewish Seniors Agency, which included Tamarisk and Shalom I and II, and working to develop a single unified personnel policy for all the agencies. I continue to work on those initiatives.
My responsibility as the CFO is to work with the management team and JCS’ Chief Executive Officer and President Erin Minior, to secure timely financial reportingso that they can run the agency’s programs properly. They need to see if their expenses and income match their monthly budgets to ensure they are not over- or under-spending.
As for COVD-19, I evaluated whether JCS would qualify for the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and then prepared and submitted the extensive PPP application to our bank. We received nearly $1 million in PPP funds, which we used for payroll, employees’ health insurance, and for utility expenses. That process was huge and time-consuming.
Q: What’s a great day at the office for you? And how do you spend time outside of work?
A: A great day at the office is accomplishing the things I intended to get done that day. Nine times out of 10 that doesn’t happen. I could walk into the office fully committed and intending to accomplish a specific goal in mind, but I’ll have 10 emails and four phone calls that demand my attention that day. I am so excited to be here; I came from a very hectic organization and here, at JCS, I love that everyone works together so well as an effective team.
As for hobbies, I love snowmobiling with my father up in New Hampshire, where I also set off a great Fourth of July fireworks display. (Fireworks are legal in New Hampshire!)