Working at CHANA wasn’t something Dr. Nancy Aiken was necessarily looking for back in 2001. She happened to notice a newspaper advertisement for the executive director position at the Counseling, Helpline and Aid Network.

It turned out to be a perfect fit.

“When I started at CHANA, there were really no rules,” recalled Aiken, who retired from the organization last fall and now serves as its executive director emerita. “There were just these clients who would call and need our help. With each client, we learned there was another gap in our community, and we took it upon ourselves to address those problems.”

For her dedication and stewardship of CHANA over the years, Aiken, 60, will be honored May 23 by the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland with its E.B. Hirsh Lifetime Achievement Award.

Aiken, who provides training sessions at CHANA and serves as an advisor to her successor, Lauren Shaivitz, will receive the award at the federation’s 103rd annual convention at Pikesville’s Temple Oheb Shalom. The theme of this year’s convention is “Women’s Empowerment: Past, Present and Future.”

“By honoring me, the organization is really honoring the clients that have come to CHANA,” said Aiken. “By acknowledging my work, they are acknowledging the importance of bringing to light issues of domestic violence and abuse.”

Linda Boteach, the federation’s president, praised Aiken for her longtime service to victims of abuse and the Jewish community.

“For the last 18 years, she has helped provide a Jewish response to abuse and trauma,” Boteach said. “Prior to CHANA, a lot of people weren’t aware of how much this was happening within our own community. The leadership Nancy has provided for CHANA has left our community in a much better place. CHANA gives women who are abused and whose voices aren’t heard a place to be heard and to get help. The organization helps women empower themselves so they can go on to be strong for themselves and their families.”

Founded in 1995 as a Jewish response to domestic violence by communal leader Brenda Brown Rever and other advocates, CHANA began as a hotline and safe house for women and children in the Jewish community. Upon Aiken’s arrival, the organization operated with only one staff member and a committed group of volunteers.

Under her leadership, CHANA’s staff grew to 11 and its mandate expanded to provide culturally sensitive services to victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, trauma and elder abuse.

CHANA, which is a program of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, also now educates the community about all forms of abuse.

An Annapolis native, Aiken began her career as the clinical director of the Harbel Prevention and Recovery Center, then based in a Dundalk church.

“My passion is to work with paraprofessionals in the community,” said Aiken. ““Working at Harbel Prevention and Recovery Center taught me how to approach a problem with a firm vocation and that you can do objective clinical mental health work while still keeping your feet grounded in personal values. I think that lesson helped me understand the force CHANA could be in my own community.”

Over the years, Aiken has worked in several social service capacities besides helming CHANA. For example, she was part of a team of mental health professionals who provided services to soldiers returning to Maryland after serving in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Currently, Aiken, a mother of two and grandmother of three who lives in northern Baltimore County, serves as a consulting supervisor at the Glenwood Life Counseling Center, a local methadone maintenance clinic.

“I felt I wanted to do something to address the opioid crisis,” she said. “I review their charts and provide training to the staff to help improve the quality of care provided to our patients.” 

Aiken said she is greatly honored to receive an award named after the late E.B. Hirsh, a local community leader, activist, philanthropist and founder of the E.B. Hirsh Early Childhood Center at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

“It’s really humbling and hard to think of myself as the kind of leader E.B. was,” Aiken said. “E.B. was a woman who was a pioneer and leader when many women weren’t taking those bold steps. I feel humbled and grateful, but this award isn’t just about me. It’s about all the leaders that started CHANA and all the leaders of the domestic violence movement whose footsteps I follow in.

“Receiving this award isn’t something I expected in a million years,” she said. “The Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland is a group I have incredible respect for. As an organization, they fill every gap you can think of, dealing with all issues women face and they have done so for over 100 years. I love that this is a community of women coming together to accomplish things, and to be recognized for doing my part is very gratifying.”

Also to be honored at the convention, with their constituent agencies, are Toby Essrog, Nancy Feierstein, Laury Scharff, Judi Snyder, Penny Kafka, Ellen Karp, Judy Stein, Diane Israel, Margie Simon, Beth Schlein, Barbara Black, Linda Roedel, Rochel Ziman, Angela Krozy, Saundra Ehrlich, Babs Galonoy, Rozzie Brilliant, Nadine Weinstein, Marcia Greenfield, Abby Sattell, Helen Davidson, Feigi Oberstein, Sen. Barbara Robinson, Allison Hoffman, Marcia Bornfriend, CeCe Rund and Gwyn Sirota.

For information, visit jewishwomensfed.org and chanabaltimore.org.

Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.