Roynea Epps didn’t grow up Jewish, but she’s come to connect deeply with Jewish values. Roynea is a teacher at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center’s Hellen Diller Family Preschool, where she’s worked for the past three years. She also just graduated — as class valedictorian — from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

But there was a period last winter when Roynea thought she might have to postpone her education because she didn’t have the money to pay tuition. An interest-free student loan from Hebrew Free Loan made it possible for her to graduate on time, thanks to our expanded eligibility policies that include all employees of Northern California synagogues and Jewish organizations.

“I felt the power of true community when I got an interest-free student loan from Hebrew Free Loan. It’s inspiring to be part of a tradition that believes so deeply in helping others.”

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and Jewish organizations were laying off employees, Hebrew Free Loan opened its doors to all who had been  working within the Jewish community. Regardless of their religious background, these individuals contribute substantial value to the institutions that lie at the heart of Jewish communal life. It’s only right that the community support them during difficult times.

The pandemic brought many challenges for Roynea, who grew up in the Bay Area and has lived in San Francisco’s Bayview district for the past ten years. After teaching on Zoom for a month, she was furloughed from the JCC until the preschool reopened at the end of last summer for in-person learning. Her father and little sister got Covid, although thankfully both recovered. Roynea scraped by on unemployment benefits and managed to cover tuition at San Francisco State from her savings.

Roynea is passionate about early childhood education, and over the years she worked her way up from snack helper to teacher’s aide to lead teacher. She loves the rich, child-centered approach of the Helen Diller Family Preschool, and eventually hopes to bring that experience to less fortunate children in low-income neighborhoods of the Bay Area.

Roynea has other dreams as well. Now that she’s completed her bachelor’s degree, she’s applied for a master’s in social work. She wants to help bridge the socioeconomic gap in education that she sees as the cause of so many divisions in the U.S. Roynea is a powerful force for positive change in the world, and we can’t wait to see all the ways in which she’s going to make a difference.