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November 11, 2019

Posted by Suzanne Kaitz

Almost one full year ago, after the Red Sox completed their historic championship run and my pumpkins were seeing their last days, I was asked by my dear friend, Laurie Gershkowitz, to join the CHAI Champions Event Committee to support a fundraiser that she and her husband, Paul, are chairing. Laurie gets involved in a myriad of wonderful causes and when she calls, I enthusiastically help in whatever way I can.

Almost all charitable events are put together to raise funds and awareness, but equally important is to give people a sense of community and connectedness with all those that participate in its success. My husband, Steven, and I are privileged that we are able to give to philanthropies that have special meaning to us. JF&CS and its mission to promote independence for people of all abilities touches what has been important to me throughout my life.

As a teacher at Perkins School for the Blind, one of my roles was to teach high school kids vocational skills to help give them an opportunity to work in their respective outside communities. The enthusiasm that each of these young adults showed in equipping themselves with the tools that give them a good shot at meaningful employment was incredible. I know it was a job for me, but the respect, love, and appreciation I received was what happily brought me back for over 20 years.

Part of my commitment to being on the CHAI Champions Event Committee was to work with the JF&CS clients on making the centerpieces for our upcoming event. Every time I get involved with a project where I will work with people with different abilities, I wonder if my skills will, once again, help in connecting with my partners in the project. Whether it be my work at The Massachusetts Association for the Blind, helping residents pick out art and then hanging the masterpieces in their respective group homes, or working with students with brain injuries choreographing their dance routines for their annual gala, my experiences almost always turn out the same smiles, hugs, and tears of joy: who could ask for anything more.

Each time, though, I always wonder – will I connect, will the outcome be successful? Driving to the JF&CS Waltham office, I once again was a bit nervous. When I met the clients and began our project to design the centerpieces for the event, I immediately embraced the opportunity of collaborating on a collective project with a real purpose and goal. The staff at JF&CS was well prepared and organized in setting up all of my fellow volunteers, as well as the dozens of clients, who all participated individually and collaboratively. Every person had a job to do and took their responsibility seriously. The buzz in the room was palpable with stories, laughter, and pride in their accomplishments. 

The outcome, after two different sessions, is collaborative art that will give hundreds of event-goers something to talk about and enjoy. For me, the clients’ curiosity in finding out who I was, the opportunity for each to express themselves in their own creative way, and the feeling that I helped in this project truly made it a good day.

If you’re interested in getting involved with JF&CS, visit our Volunteering page!


November 7, 2019

Posted by Deb Shrier, LICSW

An adoptive mother playfully raising her toddler son in the air.

Around 18,000 infants are adopted in the United States each year. For those seeking to build their family through adoption, there are many steps and choices to make before beginning the process. In honor of National Adoption Month, JF&CS Adoption Resources has put together a guide to seven key steps in the adoption process for Massachusetts residents.  

1. Choosing an adoption agency.    


Massachusetts is an “agency state” that requires prospective adoptive parents to work with a licensed adoption agency. Agencies will conduct a home study, help you navigate the adoption process, answer your questions along the way, and help you find the right approach to adoption for your family.

Adopting domestically in Massachusetts can be done through a private adoption agency or through the state foster care system. If you choose to work with a private adoption agency, you will need to decide which local agency’s mission and protocol align best with you. Meeting with agency directors or staff and attending their orientations are great ways to get information about the process.

Though much of the adoption process will sound the same, each agency is different and may offer different services. It is important to choose an agency that makes you feel comfortable and supported. 

2. Completing an adoption application, training, and home study.      


The Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires all prospective adoptive parents to be approved to adopt a child through a comprehensive family assessment called a home study and to complete a minimum of 10 hours of pre-adoption education.

The home study is a written report based on interviews with your social worker along with supporting documents (such as CORIs, medical reports) that you will provide. The home study consists of 3 - 4 meetings with a social worker from the agency that you select. At least two of these meetings must be in your home. Basic safety requirements (such as the presence of working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors) for your home will be reviewed. The home visit has less to do with your physical home and more to do with you and how you live.

The series of questions asked by your social worker will include your family of origin, personal background, how you chose your career, and if partnered, your relationship with your partner or spouse. During the time that you are going through these meetings, you will be collecting supporting documents. The home study reflects your health, stability, criminal background checks, and ability to financially raise a child into adulthood. Additionally, your home study will detail the type of child you hope to adopt, for example, a newborn or elementary school-aged child.

Each prospective parent is required to undergo 10 hours of adoption education, which must be completed before you take custody of your child. Topics for workshops and online trainings will include Transracial Adoption, Openness in Adoption, Baby Care, Medical Issues in Adoption, Identity in Adoption, and more. Your agency may offer in-person trainings for pre-adoption education and/or may have suggestions for online trainings.

3. Creating an adoptive family profile.      

Once you have completed the home study, you will create a profile book or online profile. These include text or a letter about your life and a variety of photos. Your profile typically highlights how you live, your interests, hobbies, and extended family/friends. It’s the way an expectant parent will get to know you prior to meeting. Expectant parents will review profiles with the hopes of finding the family they would like for their child.

Just as expectant parents are looking for certain traits in adoptive parents, you will also have certain preferences and expectations for the baby you would like to adopt. A few questions that you will have to answer include:

  • Are you open to a child of a race different than yours?
  •  Are there certain medical issues that you feel ready for or unprepared for?
  • What are your thoughts on openness or post-placement contact with birth parents?
  • Do you have a gender preference?

4. Meeting the expectant mother/father.


In most domestic infant adoptions, birth and adoptive families will meet. If timing and distance allow, you may meet prior to the baby’s birth. An agency social worker will facilitate this contact and will join you in the initial meetings. If phone calls, Skype, or emails are the way you meet, your social worker will help to set those up for you as well. The first contact is an opportunity to establish rapport and begin to get to know one another. Often, additional meetings happen in the hospital after the baby is born.                                                                                                                               

5. Meeting your child at the hospital.


The chance to meet your child and bond with them in the hospital is typically a memorable time for your new family. Additionally, hospital staff can be extremely helpful in terms of answering your questions and teaching you about the care of your newborn. It is also a time when you can potentially deepen your relationship with the birth parents.

It is important to remember that until the legal documents are signed, the medical decisions are the birth mother’s to make. Every state has different adoption laws that specify when a legal surrender can be signed. In Massachusetts, birth parents cannot sign a legal surrender of their child until the fourth day after birth. The wait for these documents to be signed may be stressful days for birth parents as well as adoptive parents. Your agency will keep you informed on all planning for surrenders and let you know as soon as they are signed.

6. Finalizing your adoption.    


Once you bring your child home, you can expect a series of home visits from your adoption social worker. These post-placement visits will allow your social worker to see how you and your baby are adjusting and offer any further support. Your social worker will also write reports highlighting your family’s adjustment and the baby’s developmental progress to submit to the court with the Petition of Adoption. In Massachusetts, adoptions are typically finalized when a child is about 8 or 9 months old. Remember, the adoption process does not end once the adoption is finalized. Adoption is a lifelong journey and adventure, for all of you!

7. Navigating openness with birth parents.  


The prevailing trend in adoption is for openness between the birth family and adoptive family. Initially, the relationship may begin with letters, photos, texts, or visits. For the birth parents, this will allow them to see their child’s progress and adjustment. It is also to reassure them that they made a healthy decision for the child. While the idea of contact may seem like a daunting thought, the reality is that “openness” looks different in every situation. The range of contact may be letters and pictures facilitated through the agency or it may be ongoing visits during the year. This is an area that you will explore with your social worker during the home study process. The specifics of a plan typically will be decided between the birth parent(s) and adoptive parent(s) with assistance from your social worker/agency.

If you’re interested in learning more about adoption, get in touch with an Adoption Resources counselor by filling out our contact form.


November 5, 2019

Posted by JF&CS

On November 3, 370 people gathered at the Westin Waltham to celebrate our five CHAI Champions who are extraordinary advocates for people with disabilities.

Our Champions have all made a positive impact in their field through their support of promoting community, housing, access, and independence (CHAI) for all. This year’s CHAI Champions include:

· Jeff Karp, the Founder and President of LAZ Parking, who creates an environment that allows employees to reach their personal goals and full potential

· Julie O’Brien, who dedicates her time to helping individuals with disabilities and their families prepare for their transition into adult services

· Mark Kelly, the Director of Special Needs for the Newton Parks and Recreation Department, who builds community connections through increasing access for adults with disabilities

· Sammi Robertson, the President of Bailey’s Team for Autism, who raises essential funds that go towards helping those with autism

· David Rosenberg, a Business Leader in the community, who strives to create a friendly and inclusive work environment for people of all abilities



Together, we raised more than $320,000 to continue building a foundation of well-being and resilience for our clients. The funds raised from this biennial event will go towards supporting those with disabilities, fostering their growth and independence, and giving them opportunities to live full, meaningful lives.

Thank you to our Chairs, Laurie & Paul Gershkowitz, for helping us create an inspiring and memorable evening in support of JF&CS CHAI Services; our guest speaker, Donna Roman, for sharing her experience as a client; our Champions for all that they do in the community; and the CHAI event committee for their hard work and dedication.

Finally, we would like to thank our sponsors, ticket buyers, and long-time and new friends for their generosity in supporting the critical work of CHAI Services.

Below, you can view photos from the event of our clients, staff, and attendees. 


October 30, 2019

Posted by JF&CS

A group of older adults enjoying being outside.

“We are living in a stressed-out society,” said Kelley Annese, the Program Coordinator for JF&CS Aging Well at Home. “Every age group is experiencing more stress than ever before.”

Annese is something of an expert on stress. For over 10 years, Kelley has taught yoga and meditation to older adults in hospitals and senior centers around the North Shore. “I experienced a lot of anxiety and depression from a very young age,” shared Annese. “I was very fortunate to discover yoga and meditation in my early twenties. These practices have transformed my life, and it has become my mission to teach as many people as I can about the techniques that helped me.”

As part of this mission, Kelley is leading an ongoing Stress Management Workshop for older adults on the North Shore. Held at senior housing sites and the Salem Council on Aging, this free workshop is typically offered as a four-week series of 90-minute classes. After completing the workshop, participants should come away with a better understanding of what causes them to “stress out” and a toolkit of techniques to stop the stress response before it negatively affects them.

Geared Toward Older Adults


Annese’s workshop was designed with older adults in mind because they are a population that is usually overlooked when it comes to stress management. “Some people think that once you are older and have finished raising children and are retired, there is no more stress in your life. The truth is, older adults face stress just like everyone else. And if you weren’t very good at managing stress in your younger years, chances are you won’t be good at it later in life.”

The Stress Management Workshop is a natural fit for JF&CS Aging Well at Home, which offers a suite of services that support the interdependence and wellbeing of older adults living in the community. The program focuses on naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) where there are high concentrations of older adults, particularly senior housing.

In her workshop, Kelley educates older adults about what stress is and how it takes a toll on the mind and the body. Participants learn to identify what the main stressors are in their lives and how stress affects them personally. “The workshop sometimes ends up being a bit of a stress support group,” said Annese. “The participants like to share their stories and challenges from time to time.”

Drawing on Yoga, Meditation, and Art


Over the course of the four weeks, participants learn ten of the most effective stress management practices, including various meditation and breathing techniques. In addition to incorporating elements of yoga and meditation, Kelley also makes use of her background as a visual artist.

“I went to college for painting, and later, I made my living as a textile artist in California,” said Annese. “Art is extremely therapeutic, so I thought it was important to bring that element into the program as well.” Participants enjoy engaging in the workshop’s creative activities, which include rock painting and gratitude grids.

For Kelley, leading the workshop has been incredibly gratifying. “It really is rewarding to see a person’s energy shift as they experience the various techniques in the class,” said Annese. “When you can see a person relax and the smile that comes over their face, you know they got it!”

Some participants in the class end up taking the four-week series over and over again because they find it so helpful. “Many people have told me that they never felt so relaxed and at peace until they started attending these classes,” said Kelley.

How to Sign Up for the Workshop


For more information about attending the Stress Management Workshop, please give Kelley Annese a call at 978-564-0773.

For a listing of more workshops and groups offered by JF&CS, visit our Upcoming Events page.


October 28, 2019

Posted by JF&CS

Warm up at the Parkinson's Foundation Moving Day.

On October 5, 2019, hundreds of people took over Artesani Park in Boston for the annual Moving Day fundraiser for the Parkinson’s Foundation. This inspiring and fun event raised over $156,000, which will be used to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease and advance research for a cure. 

JF&CS was well represented at Moving Day Boston. Anne Muskopf, the Director of our Charlotte & Richard Okonow Parkinson’s Family Support program, served on the Event Committee, along with her predecessor at JF&CS, Nancy Mazonson. Anne and Nancy were also joined by Art Sullivan, the instructor of the JF&CS Parkinson’s Dance group, and a handful of participants from our Parkinson’s program.

“The Parkinson’s Foundation has been a great partner for JF&CS,” said Anne Muskopf. “So, we were excited that so many people in the JF&CS family were able to participate in Moving Day.”

A Starring Role for Art Sullivan


Art Sullivan leading the warm up routine at Moving Day with mascots.As an expert in therapeutic movement and dance, Art Sullivan was the perfect choice to lead the official warm-up at Moving Day. Before the big fundraising walk, which is the centerpiece of the event, Art guided participants in a series of stretches and warm-up exercises. Even Slyde the Fox, the mascot for the New England Revolution, and Blades the Bruin, the mascot for the Boston Bruins, followed along with Art’s routine!

“Leading the kick-off routine was a great honor,” said Art. “To see all the people moving, stretching their limbs, and arching their arms in unison across the sky was a beautiful vision to behold. The participants in the walk are the real inspiration – they push me to create ever more bold routines to get them moving. They keep me motivated to be a better instructor every day.”

After the pre-walk warm-up, Art led dance classes at the event’s Movement Pavilion, which also hosted yoga, Pilates, and tai chi.

Recognizing Nancy Mazonson


Nancy Mazonson has been involved with Moving Day Boston since its inception and was given special recognition for her six years of service at the event. From the stage, a representative from the Parkinson’s Foundation praised Nancy as “an asset to our community.” During her time at JF&CS, Nancy helped launch and grow the Tremble Clefs chorus, Parkinson’s Dance, and the Adult Child, Women’s, and Care Partner support groups.

“Since JF&CS became involved in offering programming to the Parkinson’s community, there has been a growing recognition of the role that support programming can play in improving the lives of families living with PD,” said Nancy. “I was very proud to be recognized for championing this work, which has now become a mainstream component of good PD care.”

In addition to helping plan the event, Nancy also led a team that participated in the Moving Day fundraising walk. Together, the team raised over $600 to support the Parkinson’s Foundation’s initiatives.

“Moving Day is a great celebration of the tenacity of the PD community,” said Nancy. “I look forward to participating in the years to come.”  

To learn more about our resources for people living with Parkinson’s disease, visit our Charlotte & Richard Okonow Parkinson's Family Support program page.


October 24, 2019

Posted by JF&CS.  

Sammi Robertson

JF&CS is excited to recognize Sammi Robertson as one of our 2019 CHAI Champions. Sammi is the President of Baily’s Team for Autism, a nonprofit named after her son.

Bailey’s Team raises essential funds that go to helping individuals with autism and their families. Sammi founded Bailey’s Team in 2008 to help fund research, education, and programming for those on the autism spectrum. Since the creation of Bailey’s Team, it has raised over half a million dollars and made the positive impact Sammi had hoped for.

One of the projects Bailey’s Team supports is a training class for first responders called Autism Law Enforcement Education Coalition. This provides public safety and law enforcement personnel the opportunity to have a deeper understanding of the autism spectrum and provides the knowledge they need in order to assess a situation.     

Sammi has made a tremendous impact on this community through her efforts to support and raise awareness of individuals with autism. “My son inspires me every day and I’m grateful to the people who work in this field. The work we do is so rewarding. We certainly don’t do it for the recognition, but being recognized helps our cause and inspires others,” said Sammi.

To learn more about the CHAI Champions event, visit our event page.


October 24, 2019

Posted by Ellen Jawitz



As the Family Resource Coordinator at the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support®, I have the privilege of working one-on-one with participant families who need help accessing public benefits, housing, and other resources. While my work is focused on providing these types of direct services, I think it is equally important to tackle the systemic issues that impact low-income families. So, when my colleague Maureen Whitman told me about the new Diaper Benefits Pilot Program bills being considered by the Massachusetts Legislature, I jumped at the chance to testify in support of them.

On July 16, 2019, I spoke in front of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. I advocated for House Bill 107 and Senate Bill 65, which would establish a pilot program to give grants to organizations for the purpose of obtaining, storing, and distributing free diapers to low-income families.

The Need for Diapers


When I first started working at CERS six years ago, one of the most frequent requests I received was for help with diapers. For many low-income families, having an adequate supply of diapers is an insurmountable hurdle.

Diapers are expensive, and they are even more expensive for low-income families who don’t have access to big box stores that sell them in large quantities at a discount. Unfortunately, SNAP benefits (known as “food stamps”) can’t be used to purchase diapers. While cloth reusable diapers can be a good way to save money, they aren’t a viable option unless a family has their own washer and dryer. Needless to say, most of the people who can’t afford diapers also can’t afford in-home laundry. Even more importantly, children can’t be sent to day care with cloth diapers, and so parents without an adequate supply of disposable diapers may not be able to return to work or attend school.

When families don’t have enough diapers, parents may try to stretch the time between diaper changes, but this causes tremendous discomfort and puts the baby at risk of serious infection. Faced with this problem, many families buy diapers and fall behind on other bills – including utilities and rent. This can become a major source of stress for parents, who then pass this stress on to their children.

Addressing the Need for Our Clients


At JF&CS, we have worked hard to develop our own in-house diaper supply, so we can improve the health and emotional well-being of the babies and parents we work with. We have been fortunate to partner with Diaper Circle and other local organizations that collect diapers for distribution to families in need. CERS accepts open packages of diapers from local nursery schools and seeks out donations to buy diapers in bulk at a low cost.

When one of our staff shows up at a client’s house with diapers, the effect is remarkable. A parent who has been worrying about changing her baby’s soiled diaper now knows that she doesn’t have to worry about this for another couple of weeks. What a difference this can make for parents and babies!

Expanding Access to Diaper Pantries


Unfortunately, there are only a handful of diaper pantries in Greater Boston, and most of them are only available to residents of specific towns. Some of the pantries actually exclude families who receive cash assistance. Even for those families who are eligible, the pantries are open one day per month for limited hours, and they typically provide only 30 diapers per child, per month. The average baby goes through 6-8 diapers per day, so 30 diapers will last no more than 5 days.

The new bills sponsored by Representative Mindy Domb, Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, and Senator Joan Lovely would be a game-changer for low-income families with young children. The legislation would establish a one-year Diaper Benefits Pilot Program that provides money for up to 12 organizations to distribute free diapers. I hope that my testimony before the Joint Committee helped to provide context for lawmakers as they evaluate this important legislation.

Remember Diapers This Giving Tuesday


While the Diaper Benefits Pilot Program bills are still under consideration, there is something you can do to help get more diapers into the hands of low-income parents. This Giving Tuesday (December 3), JF&CS will be raising money to stock our in-house diaper supply. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and stay tuned for the latest updates on our Giving Tuesday fundraiser!      


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October 23, 2019

Posted by JF&CS  

JF&CS is excited to recognize Mark Kelly, M.Ed. as one of our 2019 CHAI Champions. At this year’s CHAI Champions event, JF&CS will recognize five individuals who share our mission to care deeply about promoting community, housing, access, and independence (CHAI) for people of all abilities. As the Director of Special Needs for the Newton Parks and Recreation Department, Mark builds community connections through increasing access for adults with disabilities.

Mark is in his 18th year as the Director of Special Needs and currently serves more than three hundred athletes with disabilities. He organizes year-round sports and recreation programs that allow people of all abilities to get active through Newton Parks and Recreation.

Mark was inspired to make therapeutic recreation his career after working at an inclusive day camp for kids with disabilities during his time in college and has since worked tirelessly to create programs that support the lives of adults with disabilities. The rich and meaningful fitness experience that Mark and his colleagues have developed has created a supportive community where families treat other children as their own.

By having a program that is open to people of all abilities, adults with disabilities are given the opportunity to experience the fun and healthy benefits that come with fitness and exercise. Mark’s efforts in creating an inclusive environment has shown how incredible his athletes are.

“I am truly honored to be recognized as a CHAI Champion and I’m inspired by the work that JF&CS does,” Mark said.

To learn more about the CHAI Champions event, visit our event page.


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October 23, 2019

Posted by JF&CS

JF&CS is pleased to announce that Jill Snider has joined the agency as a Senior Philanthropic Advisor. Jill comes to JF&CS with more than 10 years of experience in institutional advancement, including 5 years of leadership and resource development within Greater Boston’s Jewish Community.

Originally from Wellesley, Massachusetts, Jill joins JF&CS after four years at the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), the largest hunger-relief organization in New England. GBFB distributes healthy food to individuals and families struggling with food insecurity through a network of agency partners like JF&CS Family Table. Ensuring that children, families, and older adults have access to the nutritious food they need to lead healthy lives is extremely important to Jill. She’s excited that she will be able to work with Family Table and continue raising awareness and funds to support our neighbors in need.

Earlier in her career, Jill worked at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP). She is thrilled to be coming back to her roots and once again donning the hat of Jewish communal professional. 

At JF&CS, Jill will be part of the Institutional Advancement team. Her primary role will be raising the charitable dollars needed to support the vital programs of JF&CS. She will also be working with the Tree of Life Society, which recognizes the agency’s legacy donors. Jill is especially passionate about connecting donors’ philanthropic goals with their financial and estate plans and ensuring that JF&CS can continue impacting lives for generations to come.

Jill has a both a master's degree in Public Administration and in Hebrew and Judaic Studies from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in religion from Middlebury College.


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October 8, 2019
Posted by Jeremy Lawrence



For over seven years, I have volunteered at JF&CS Family Table. Once a month, my mom and I head out to JF&CS in Waltham to package and deliver groceries. We’re usually assigned three families, so we split up to be efficient with our time. Once we finish packing, we carry the groceries to our car and group them by client to make sure not to mix them up, and then we head into Boston. Family Table always needs volunteers to deliver to the city; it’s a good opportunity for us to see all types of communities.

We talk a lot on the way to Boston, about school and current events. It’s nice to be together. Once we get to our destination, we collect the groceries and head out. Most families live in apartment buildings, and we often deliver to a few clients in one building

Clients are always happy to see us and grateful for our assistance. Often, a client will give me a treat like candy, a cookie, or a piece of fruit that was saved just for me. This small token of appreciation helps me realize the importance of what we’re doing. After we’ve made our deliveries, we get back in the car and we talk about how hard it is to struggle. These experiences are something that I will always remember.

If you would like to volunteer at a Family Table food distribution, please fill out one of our application forms: Waltham Application, North Shore Application, South Area Application. A schedule of upcoming distribution days can be found here


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