Federation PJ Library Connectors Bring Jewish Programming to Houston Suburbs

November 14, 2019 — As the Houston area has grown and expanded, so too has its Jewish community. The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston is working to better link the families who live in Houston suburbs with each other and the Jewish community through its new PJ Library Connectors program.

Each month, PJ Library mails free, high-quality Jewish books and music to more than 2,000 Houston-area Jewish children, ages six months through 12 years. Regular PJ Library programming also helps bring families together to build community.

Until now, most programs have been held in and around the core geographic area of the Houston Jewish community. To reach beyond, the Federation has hired three PJ Connectors to engage families with young children in the areas of Sugarland, The Woodlands and West Houston. Each connector will focus on a specific community where they live and raise their families. They will create monthly programming in their neighborhoods enabling more families to participate.

The Connectors include Sara Edelman in West Houston, Melanie Sacks in Sugarland and Lenee Bien-Willner in The Woodlands. Programs will range from pop-up playdates and story times, to holiday-themed activities and more.

Edelman, 31, and her husband Mark have a son Jacob, who is almost two. She is a Houston native who holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University

“I want to help give Jewish children and their families the opportunity to feel a sense of community in our area. I want to help bring these families together to create friendships, memories, and experiences in a Jewish setting,” Edelman said. “We’ve been receiving PJ books since Jacob was 6 months old. Jacob LOVES reading, so it’s been a great way to introduce Jewish traditions and values into our home. He will pick out the PJ books to read on his own and all the characters are now “mommy”, “daddy”, and “Jacob”!”

Sacks, 33, has a two-year-old son, Ethan. She is originally from Pikesville, MD, in the Baltimore suburbs, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Villa Julie College.

“Several years ago, a friend was in the hospital and I brought a book to read to him. Since then, I’ve always looked for opportunities to read to people, as I realized how much I enjoy it and how important it is,” Sacks said. “It was so nice to find the PJ Library program when my son was born. I’m excited to connect families in my wonderful community to share the experience of reading and other experiences with each other. Sometimes Sugar Land feels a bit far from the action, and I hope to be able to bring some of the action here!”

Lenee Bien-Willner, 40, and her husband, Gabriel, have three children, Asher, 8, Phoebe, 5, and Emery, 3. She is originally from San Antonio and holds a bachelor’s degree in Virology from Texas A&M University, and a master’s degree in Molecular Biology from Baylor College of Medicine.

“When I first moved to The Woodlands five years ago, I found it difficult to find other Jewish families in my area. I would like to be a resource for new families and established residents alike to create more Jewish activities in our area,” Bien-Willner said. “PJ Library gives my children access, in a fun, kid-friendly way, to the vocabulary, imagery and cultural diversity of the Jewish people. By making it fun for our young ones and their families to connect with other Jewish families, then keeping traditions year-round will be natural and easy.”

The PJ Connectors program is funded by the Implementing Partners Engagement Grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

To stay up to date with PJ Connectors programs sign up for the PJ Library email newsletter at www.houstonjewish.org/pjlibrary and follow @pjlibraryhouston on Facebook.

For more information on PJ Library, contact Hilary Kamin at 713-729-7000 or hkamin@houstonjewish.org.

Through the generosity of our donors and working with our network of affiliates and partners, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston mobilizes a collective response to improve the lives of Jews here at home, in Israel and around the world. We are dedicated to supporting and sustaining our vibrant and caring community, and to ensuring that our shared traditions endure. Focusing on growing and changing needs in our community, we cultivate new and ongoing programs that nurture and strengthen Jewish life.