Caring for Generations

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JF&CS Blog

Eli with his father and brother.
February 5, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

Eli with his father and brother.

Eli with his father and brother in 2016.

For Donna Roman’s family, meeting the needs of their youngest son, Eli, has been a years-long struggle. “It has been a difficult and, at times, devasting experience,” said Donna. Eli is on the autism spectrum and faces significant mental health challenges, along with learning disabilities. Additionally, Eli sometimes wrestles with his identity as a child who was adopted. 

In early 2017, Eli and his family were in all-out crisis. Within a period of six months, Eli was in the hospital three times for a total of 10 weeks, and that was after five previous psychiatric hospitalizations. 

Charting a Course 

At this point, Eli was already receiving in-home support from JF&CS, which he had been referred to through MassHealth. After his recent spate of hospitalizations, Eli’s in-home team suggested that he work directly with Joan Munnelly, the Autism Navigator at JF&CS. Eli and his family at The Albert Einstein Memorial.

“Joan was able to help us chart a course,” said Donna. “Eli is lucky to have an amazing team of professionals that are experts in their respective areas. Joan, who is an expert in special education advocacy, quickly became an integral part of Eli’s team.” 

Joan works with Eli and his family to improve his educational goals and access. She closely coordinates her efforts with Eli’s school and his team of professionals to ensure that his services are implemented effectively. Together, Eli’s team has fought to make sure that he receives the correct type of therapeutic placement. 

“When Joan attends meetings with Eli and us, she adds crucial input,” said Donna. “She represents Eli’s voice, and encourages Eli to advocate for himself.” Joan also reviews Eli’s Individualized Education Plan, reports, and evaluations directly with his parents to improve their understanding of what Eli needs and help them adjust their planning when problems arise. 

Looking Toward a Brighter Future 

Eli’s life has transformed dramatically since 2017. With coaching and encouragement from Joan, Donna and her husband made the difficult decision that Eli needed a residential placement to make progress. “It was agonizing,” said Donna. “But the results have been amazing.”Eli and his friend at a zipline course.

In the last 2½ years, Eli hasn’t been in the hospital or ER for mental illness issues at all. He has been able to access his education and has earned almost all As and Bs. “When Eli first met Joan, he had no self-confidence and had told us that he thought he was stupid,” said Donna. “Now, he identifies goals for his future and even said that he would like to go to some type of college program.” 

Donna credits JF&CS and Joan for Eli’s progress. “At some of the worst moments for us, Joan was there to help pick us up, dust us off, and cheerlead so we can keep going,” said Donna. “She’s an essential resource, friend, and ally for us, but even more importantly, for Eli.”

Visit our Autism Services page to learn more about the resources we offer. 

Older Couple hands.jpg
February 3, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

An elderly couple holding hands.

"Jewish victims of Nazi persecution should never feel forgotten,” said Lora Tarlin, director of Schechter Holocaust Services. Too often, survivors are left to suffer due to financial insecurity, social isolation, and age-related difficulties. Their increasing physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges often revive traumatic events they endured as children and young adults, which exacerbate their difficulties. Poverty-related stress can also be triggering for survivors, as it reminds them of their deprivation during the Holocaust. 

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany funds 78 percent of our Schechter Holocaust Services (SHS) program, which provides services and advocacy that lightens this stress for survivors and aims to support their physical and emotional well-being. JF&CS is the only agency in Massachusetts funded by the Claims Conference and is also the only agency that works directly with survivors. While some agencies provide educational resources about the Holocaust, JF&CS offers individuals person-centered, trauma-informed care. 

For Sasha*, an SHS client, a case manager stepped in to help her in her time of need. Sasha had broken her pelvis, but due to her poor financial situation, the hospital wanted to send her home after only a couple of days. Sasha also had dementia and faced a language barrier when communicating with others. She spoke Russian as her primary language and had no family living in the area to translate for her when she needed to speak to doctors. 

Had Sasha gone home, she would have been unable to care for herself. She was injured and only received a few hours of homecare a week through JF&CS. These few hours of homecare were enough to help her when she was healthy, but with a broken pelvis, she would need around the clock care. Sasha had already suffered a lack of medical care as a child, and now the hospital was attempting to send her away in a state unfit to take care of herself. 

When SHS heard about her situation, they knew they had to advocate for her. Sasha’s case manager reached out to a pro bono attorney in order to convince the hospital that their patient needed and deserved care, despite her financial situation. With the help of her lawyer and advocate, Sasha was able to stay at the hospital for the duration of her six-week healing process. Her advocate helped translate her needs to doctors and nurses and got her the legal help she needed. Although lengthening her stay was a huge accomplishment, the hospital refused to move Sasha to the rehab wing. Each day, someone had to bring Sasha to her physical therapy, which still put unneeded strain on her by moving her farther distances than necessary. 

This struggle is not uncommon for survivors. Poverty effects the resources they’re able to access, such as medical care, which harms their well-being. “It shows how the system falls short, even with MassHealth assistance. There is so little help for those who need it in navigating the system,” said Lora. 

Victims of Nazi persecution also struggle with social isolation that inhibits their connections to those who could assist them as they age. In addition to advocating for survivors, SHS also holds a monthly social gathering that helps counter isolation. By giving survivors access to events where they can socialize with other survivors, they are able to build friendships and know that they are not alone. 

“Survivors started their lives scared; they shouldn’t have to end their lives frightened. We want to bring peace to them and their families,” shared Lora. By standing up for those who can’t advocate for themselves, SHS drastically improves the lives of those who need it most. 

More than 270 survivors are helped by JF&CS each month, enabling survivors to live full, happy lives and age with dignity. 

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Karen Garber of JF&CS with staff from More Than Words.
January 31, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

Karen Garber of JF&CS with staff from More Than Words.

JF&CS staff came together for a morning of service on Tuesday to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. JF&CS staff members held a book drive to support More Than Words, a Boston-based nonprofit that empowers young adults to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business. After learning about MLK through a presentation from the JF&CS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and watching a James Taylor tribute performance, our staff sorted and packed the books to be donated to More Than Words.

More Than Words works with youth who are in the foster care system, court-involved, homeless, or out of school and gives them the opportunity to obtain necessary skills to make a change in their lives. More Than Words collects books, CDs, and DVDs to sell in a bookstore run by their participants. Young adults ages 16-24 are given job responsibilities and support to develop personal success, action plans, and skills to become contributing members of society.

A JF&CS team member packing donations. To help More Than Words in their mission and to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day, JF&CS teamed up to hold an office-wide donation of books, DVDs, and CDs. Throughout January, staff members were invited to bring items to the office, which would then be given to More Than Words to stock their shelves. JF&CS staff spent Tuesday morning learning about More Than Words and sorting, counting, and boxing the donations collected.  

By coming together, JF&CS was able to donate dozens of boxes of books, CDs, and DVDs that will help make a difference for those helped by More Than Words.

To learn about getting involved with JF&CS, visit our Volunteering page.

Stephanie and KJ.jpg
January 29, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

Stephanie and KJ with their children.
Last year, Stephanie and KJ came to JF&CS looking to grow their family. With one child at home, they already had experience with other adoption agencies. This time around, they were looking for a different kind of adoption experience. “While looking for adoption agencies in Massachusetts, the JF&CS website indicated that they were inclusive of LGBTQ people. That was definitely an important factor for us,” KJ said.

Although Stephanie and KJ didn’t know it at the time, JF&CS Adoption Resources had received a grant from the Krupp Family Foundation that allowed the agency to be more visible to LGBTQ families. JF&CS has always been LGBTQ friendly, but this grant gave us the chance to create a new website that could be seen by more families in search of a welcoming adoption agency. In addition to creating an inclusive website, this grant made it possible to give LGBTQ families an interest-free loan for the adoption process. 

Approximately 65,000 adopted children across the nation are being raised by LGBTQ parents. In many cases, LGTBQ families face the same struggles as heterosexual families such as confusion about the adoption process, financial hardship, and legal risk, while also experiencing their own unique difficulties. There are very few resources that focus on the needs of LGBTQ adoptive parents and their children. LGBTQ couples also struggle with the opportunity of having financial assistance grants available to them due to explicit or covert discrimination. With the interest-free loan that is exclusively for Adoption Resources’ LGBTQ couples, they are given the same opportunities as heterosexual couples to grow their family. This interest-free loan is one of the only loans of its type for LGBTQ families. 

“We’ve been able to attract a diverse pool of adoptive parents with the Krupp grant. Between fifteen and twenty percent of our families are LGBTQ. We’ve become more visible in the community, and we’re able to give some families the opportunity to adopt without the financial risk,” shared Betsy Hochberg, LICSW, Director of Adoption Resources. 

Once Stephanie and KJ began their adoption experience with JF&CS, they saw what really made Adoption Resources stand out among the rest. “JF&CS was so supportive; I never thought we could get the personal guidance we found through the process,” Stephanie said. 

“Adoption can be an emotional roller coaster. There’s a lot of everyday ups and downs, hopes, and expectations,” said KJ. “But JF&CS made the process feel so positive,” said Stephanie. “We had a great working relationship with the adoption team. They helped us practice the patience we needed to navigate it all.” 

JF&CS provides waiting families with the knowledge and resources they need to be prepared every step of the way. “We’re very hands on and supportive from the beginning pre-adopt stage, through the waiting period, and long after placement. Families adopt and, understandably, have questions along the way as they parent,” said Deb Shrier, LICSW, Associate Director of Adoption Resources. 

By attending adoption education workshops through JF&CS, Stephanie and KJ, as well as other pre-adoptive families, can feel comfortable and prepared for the future. Whether waiting families are attending an orientation meeting about the adoption process, hearing adoptive parents share their personal experiences, or listening to a panel discussion of birth parents who have made adoption plans for their children, JF&CS provides the guidance families need to feel confident and reassured throughout their adoption. 

Through educational workshops and meetings with their social worker, Stephanie and KJ were able to have a smooth and personalized adoption experience. Last spring, Stephanie and KJ added two girls to their family, and according to KJ, “the biggest surprise was twins.”

To learn more about Adoption Resources, visit our website.

The Schechter Holocaust Services Advisory Council participating in the We Remember campaign.
January 27, 2020

Posted by Lora Tarlin, Director of Schechter Holocaust Services

The Schechter Holocaust Services Advisory Council participating in the We Remember campaign.

“Never again” may be the two words most closely associated with the Holocaust. As the late Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel put it, “Never again becomes more than a slogan: It’s a prayer, a promise, a vow.” In order for the world to keep the promise of “never again,” however, it is essential for the international community to embrace another two-word phrase: “We remember.”

Today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember the horrors of the Holocaust. We remember the 6 million Jews and 11 million other victims who were murdered by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. We remember to stand against anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred, xenophobia, and genocide.

January 27, 1945

January 27 was designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations because it was on this date in 1945 that Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Red Army. Located in German-occupied Poland, Auschwitz was the largest Nazi concentration and death camp.  

While the events of the Holocaust can sometimes feel like the distant past, for survivors, memories from seventy-five years ago remain as vivid as ever. Last week, I was in a meeting and heard a survivor speak about the deep personal significance of January 27, 1945. Unexpectedly, another survivor in the room said, “Yes, I know that day well. I consider it my rebirthday. I, too, was liberated on that day.” How powerful those words were to the rest of us sitting there.

Remembering Holocaust Survivors

JF&CS leadership participating in the We Remember campaign.Of course, “we remember” doesn’t just apply to one day out of the year. Each and every day, we must remember to take care of the survivors in our community; to tell their stories and to ensure that those who have endured so much are living with dignity.

Sadly, it is estimated that 30% of Holocaust survivors in the United States live below the poverty line. At JF&CS Schechter Holocaust Services (SHS), we are committed to ensuring that basic needs – healthcare, food, clothing, housing – are accessible to every survivor. Furthermore, we believe that the right to have a kosher home and access kosher food, the right to a Jewish burial, and the right to celebrate Jewish holidays should never be out of reach for any survivor.

Despite the declining population of survivors, SHS is seeing an increase in need because survivors often live long lives. One study found that, on average, survivors live 7.1 years longer than their counterparts who were not in the Holocaust. As our clients live into their 80s, 90s, and beyond, they typically require more support in their everyday lives.

How to Help Survivors

If you would like to help survivors in the Greater Boston area, SHS offers a number of ways to get involved. We are always looking for volunteers to drive survivors to medical appointments, help with grocery shopping, and provide companionship. Volunteers are also welcome to work in our Waltham office or lend a helping hand with our monthly social gatherings for Holocaust survivors, known as Café Hakalah.

To start volunteering with JF&CS, please fill out our Volunteer Registration Form and be sure to check the box for “Holocaust survivors and their families” under Assignment Interests. Donating to JF&CS is also a wonderful way to help survivors. Thank you so much for your support!

January 24, 2020

Posted by Wendy Schiffman Wilsker
Wendy Schiffman Wilsker, Chief Advancement Officer at JF&CS
One of my favorite parts of living in New England is experiencing all four seasons each year. From the brilliant fall leaves to the first buds of spring, we are reminded of new beginnings, changes, and the beauty and complexity of nature. The landscape of nonprofits is not much different. And while many of us fundraisers wish that money really did grow on trees, we must work hard to harvest meaningful, impactful, philanthropic support.

Today, at JF&CS, we are addressing some of the most pressing challenges in society from income inequality to food insecurity, opioid addiction to social isolation. Our clients walk through our doors needing food, diapers, safety, employment, respite, friendship, and community. Our collaborative model of care ensures that we will find the resources our clients need, we will partner with organizations, and we will leave no stone unturned to help our clients and their families.

Our agency is fortunate to have the loyalty and generosity of our individual donors, who make up more than half of our philanthropic support. We are, of course, grateful for the support of Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the dozens of foundations who sustain our work, providing the resources and inspiration to provide impactful programs to our 14,000 clients and their families. And we are grateful to live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where we are fortunate to work closely with our elected officials to ensure that our most vulnerable families and those experiencing trauma and mental illness can access the resources they need. We are proud of the nearly 100 partnerships we have with hospitals, universities, and other social service agencies who realize, like us, that we cannot do this work alone.

Today, we find that donors of all ages are seeking more meaning in their giving. For some, that means including JF&CS in their estate plan, and for others, it means sharing their time and expertise as volunteers. We are excited to work with individuals, families, and corporations to create meaningful volunteer experiences. Last year, we welcomed close to 50 volunteer groups and are grateful to the more than 2,000 volunteers who help us build a foundation of well-being and resilience for our clients.

To the more than 5,000 donors who gave to JF&CS in 2019, thank you. Your philanthropic support is truly life-changing for our clients and their families, for generations to come.

If you would like to join our community of donors, you can make a gift to JF&CS online.

January 23, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms in a clasroom in Dnipro.

As detailed in Part I of this story, our own Debbie Whitehill and three JF&CS Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms® volunteers traveled to Dnipro, Ukraine for four days in November. The Rubin Visiting Moms conducted a training with members of Dnipro’s Mentor Moms program, which is modeled after our own Visiting Moms program.    

While meeting the Mentor Moms was the focal point of their trip, the Rubin Visiting Moms also had the chance to visit a number of organizations in Dnipro that receive support from Combined Jewish Philanthropy’s Dnipro Kehillah Project (DKP) and, in some cases, from JF&CS as well.

Touring Schools and a Medical Center

On their first day in Dnipro, Debbie Whitehill, Marlene Bohn, Suzie Cheatham, and Yvonne Sacks visited a highly ranked public school where CJP funds breakfast and lunch for the students. The majority of the students are Jewish and from low-income families. As Marlene noted, “A full stomach makes a big difference in a child’s ability to learn.”  

A boy and a teacher playing with sand in a school in Dnipro.Next, the Rubin Visiting Moms toured another school in Dnipro that provides services for children with special needs, including autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, and hearing disabilities. CJP brought teachers from this school to Boston for a month of further education in special needs. JF&CS helped to build Dnipro’s Special Needs Education Resource Center, a groundbreaking program that provides education, family support, and specialized medical consultation services to children with special needs and their families.

At the Jewish Medical Center in Dnipro, the JF&CS delegation saw the dichotomy between the old, crumbing section of the clinic and the building’s new, modern wing. “In Dnipro, most people go without vaccines because they don’t trust vaccinations manufactured in the country,” said Marlene. “At the Jewish Medical Center, vaccines are purchased outside of the country and the director and his family get vaccinated on TV and on social media to show that they are safe.”

Beit Barcuch and a Warm House

The Rubin Visiting Moms also saw what life is like for older adults in Dnipro. The JF&CS contingent visited Beit Baruch, the only Jewish senior home in the entire Former Soviet Union. Heavily subsidized by the Greater Boston Jewish community, Beit Baruch is modeled after Hebrew SeniorLife, the Massachusetts-based senior living communities. In 2010, Marsha Frankel, the now-retired Clinical Director of JF&CS Senior Services, visited Beit Baruch to provide direct training and support to the staff to improve the quality of life for residents.

Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms at a dinner in Dnipro.Many older adults in Dnipro struggle to live on their pension of 70 - 80 dollars a month. The “Warm House” program seeks to help seniors by facilitating monthly group dinners. Volunteers host 5 to 6 other older adults in their apartments and receive a stipend from CJP to prepare a meal with their guests. The Rubin Visiting Moms attended a Warm House dinner where they met a group of retired women who had worked in a range of professions, including an engineer, an economist, and a physicist.

“The Warm House visit was moving,” shared Suzie. “The women were so warm, welcoming, and generous. Like Abraham, they shared the little they had with open hearts. It’s a program that could be of value in so many places.” Interestingly, JF&CS Aging Well at Home launched a similar Warm House program in Brookline, MA to help older adults build and strengthen connections with one another.

Although their trip was brief, members of the JF&CS contingent were deeply affected by their firsthand look at the impact of DKP programs in Dnipro. “Learning about all of the work that is being done both internally and externally for and by this small Ukranian community is incredibly touching,” said Yvonne. “I am immensely proud that my Greater Boston Jewish community is providing the money and loving care for so much in Dnipro.”

January 21, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms with the Mentor Moms in Dnipro.

“Ukraine has certainly been in the news a lot these days,” said Debbie Whitehill, Director of the JF&CS Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms® program. “So, I’m thrilled that we can share some positive stories from Ukraine right now.” In November, Debbie and three Rubin Visiting Moms volunteers [Marlene Bohn, Suzie Cheatham, and Yvonne Sacks] visited Dnipro, Ukraine for four remarkable days. During the trip, the JF&CS contingent met with Dnipro’s Mentor Moms program, which is modeled after our own Rubin Visiting Moms program.  

One Jewish Community Helping Another 

The city of Dnipro on the river. The trip to Ukraine was organized as part of the Dnipro Kehillah Project (DKP), a partnership between Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Jewish community of Dnipro. Home to a Jewish population of 30,000 - 50,000, Dnipro boasts the third-largest Jewish community in Europe and the fifth-largest in the world. The DKP works to revitalize Jewish life in post-Soviet Dnipro through comprehensive assistance, including healthcare and medical training, economic advancement programs, and crisis support.

In 2017, the DKP financed an initiative to replicate the Rubin Visiting Moms program in Dnipro. Like its American counterpart, “Mentor Moms” in Dnipro matches empathetic volunteers with new parents during the first year of their baby’s life. Debbie Whitehill and the JF&CS team have provided ongoing support and encouragement over Skype to the Dnipro Mentor Moms as they grow their program.

“I was so excited when I received the invitation from Debbie to join the trip to Ukraine,” said Suzie Cheatham. “The thought of seeing how successful programs here translated to a former USSR country piqued my interest.”

Meeting the Mentor Moms

A highlight of the trip was the chance to see the Mentor Moms in person and conduct a Rubin Visiting Moms training at the local JCC and Hillel. Marlene Bohn was struck by the universality of being a parent. “We can live across the world, but the challenges of new motherhood are very similar,” said Marlene.   The Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms leading a training with the Mentor Moms of Dnipro.

Yvonne Sacks also found that the mission of the Rubin Visiting Moms/Mentor Moms transcended culture. “Being a part of the Rubin Visiting Moms delegation was special,” said Yvonne. “It was clear, despite our language differences, that our presence and the opportunity to share our experiences were appreciated.”

One of the Mentor Moms graciously invited the Rubin Visiting Moms over for dinner at her home. “It was a dinner party to remember,” said Marlene. “There was traditional Ukrainian food, music played by our friend Yacov and our host’s daughter, dancing, and great company.” After the party, the JF&CS contingent was invited to a wedding reception back at the hotel — another testament to the incredible friendliness and hospitality of the Ukrainian people.

For more from the Rubin Visiting Moms’ trip to Dnipro, stay tuned for Part II.

Samantha Walsh.jpg
January 17, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

JF&CS is excited to welcome Samantha Walsh as our new Journey to Safety TeenSafe Fellow. With a background in working with adolescents, Samantha welcomes the opportunity to give teens the language and tools they need to recognize abuse in a dating relationship. Samantha will focus on training the 2019-2020 cohort of teen leaders, bringing workshops to various community organizations and synagogues, and working to enhance awareness about Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month through the Orange4Love campaign. 

Samantha has spent most of her professional career working with teens. After graduating with her B.A. in Political Science from Allegheny College, Samantha moved from Rhode Island to Atlanta, GA to work for the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta as the BBYO Assistant Council Director. She spent three and a half years there before moving back to New England to pursue her master’s in social work from Salem State University. 

After receiving her master’s, Samantha spent time as an Intern School Adjustment Counselor and In-Home Therapy Support Clinician before turning her attention back to the Jewish Community. Since 2014, Samantha has continued to serve as the Regional Director for BBYO New England, a region within the largest, pluralistic, international Jewish youth movement. She was recently a recipient of CJP’s Chai in the Hub 2020, which recognizes twelve young adults who strive personally and professionally to better Boston’s Jewish community. 

She is excited to take on this role with JF&CS and provide teens with the skills to prevent dating violence in the Jewish community. 

For more information on how to get involved with TeenSafe, please email Samantha at or visit us online.

January 15, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

A mother smiling with her young child.

We are proud to announce that JF&CS has received two grants from the Department of Public Health (DPH) to support mothers and families who are impacted by opioid use. These two grants were awarded as part of DPH’s FIRST (Families in Recovery SupporT) Steps Together initiative, which provides seven sites across Massachusetts with the resources and knowledge needed to make a positive change in the lives of families affected by parental opioid use disorder. One grant created a Training and Technical Assistance team at JF&CS that will support all seven sites, while the second grant recognizes and enables us to expand an existing JF&CS program that supports moms in recovery as a FIRST Steps Together site.

Tackling the Opioid Crisis

Last year, over two thousand people in Massachusetts died due to opioid use. The number of opioid-related deaths in the state is now two times higher than the national average, and Massachusetts is among the top ten states for opioid deaths. With the rising rate of opioid use, there’s a greater chance of pregnant and postpartum mothers having to juggle addiction and motherhood. Many individuals who suffer from substance use disorder don’t seek out help, whether it’s due to a lack of resources or the stigma around opioid use. 

In response to the opioid crisis, JF&CS created Project NESST® in 2011 with a grant from the Hawk Foundation to support pregnant women and mothers of young children in their recovery. Through this home visiting program, our staff focus on the intersection between recovery and parenting in order to help both the mother and child. Mothers are matched with a maternal recovery specialist, an individual in recovery herself who has received specialized training. Maternal recovery specialists are able to support mothers through their unique perspective of understanding what participants are going through. In addition to maternal recovery specialists who help through peer support, Project NESST also has clinicians who focus on the psychological issues and struggles that impact recovery and parenting. 

The FIRST Steps Together sites set themselves apart through their focus on providing peer-based intervention, which supports mothers in both aspects of their lives. There are multiple components that go into the home visiting program that allow family recovery support specialists to help with the parent-child relationship, recovery support, and care coordination for those involved. 

Sharing Resources and Best Practices 

FIRST Steps TogetherDue to our experience and success with recovery and parenting programs, JF&CS was also chosen to be the home of the new Technical and Training Assistance team of the FIRST Steps Together initiative. “One of the things that was clear was that there were a lot of other programs at JF&CS that would support this work. Having this linked to the Center for Early Relationship Support®, which runs various home visiting programs, the Infant-Parent Training Institute, and Project NESST, we felt like JF&CS really understood what was needed from a training perspective,” shared Debra Bercuvitz, Director of FIRST Steps Together at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). The Training and Technical Assistance team works with all seven direct service sites throughout Massachusetts and focuses on sharing knowledge and best practices, while also providing support for the development of each site. “The technical assistance and training means that we can really share all that we’ve been able to learn from one end of the state to the other,” said Amy Sommer, Director of Project NESST. 

What makes this program unique is how resources are shared. “One thing we’ve brought to this project that’s different from other similar projects is really finding ways for us to not just be supporting sites, but for the sites to benefit from each other’s experience and to share their challenges with others,” said Clare Grace Jones, Training/Technical Assistance Director for FIRST Steps Together. The Technical and Training Assistance team travels throughout the state to effectively support the direct service sites, in addition to utilizing an online platform that encourages sites to engage with each other. 

The collaborative focus of FIRST Steps Together is what makes the program so successful, despite the distance between sites. Each site has different experiences and hurdles, but they can share what they learn with other program managers. “It makes us part of a network. If we have questions about something we can reach out to the other sites and ask how they solved the problem, or how they would address specific challenges. It’s been really nice to have people who are doing the same work that we can reach out to and connect with,” said Amy. There’s also collaboration between DPH and the Technical and Training Assistance team. They’re able to communicate to come up with new ideas and push the program forward. “We have this incredible team that takes our vision and figures out how to implement it. We’re so lucky to have such a capable team that is making this happen on a practical level,” said Debra. “The opioid crisis is still affecting millions of people, especially parents with young children who will bear the impact of this crisis for years to come. There’s a need for this service and FIRST Steps Together funding has allowed us to expand our staff so we can serve even more parents in recovery,” said Amy. 

Being There for Mothers in Recovery

With the help of the First Steps Together initiative, mothers are being supported through their recovery without being judged. Maternal recovery specialists provide an understanding shoulder to lean on when mothers are struggling to balance their health and their family. They have the opportunity to share their feelings about parenting joys and challenges, as well as receive the encouragement they need through their recovery. 

Thanks to DPH, Project NESST can help even more moms in recovery through home visits, recovery coaching, parenting support, and connections to community-based services. With professional training and reliable support from the Technical and Training Assistance team, the FIRST Steps Together sites can make a positive impact in their communities.

Learn more about Project NESST.

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