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JF&CS Blog

December 17, 2019

Posted by JF&CS
A CHAI Works-South participant holding a dog.
“There is just something about spending time with animals that puts a smile on your face,” said Heidi Isler, the Manager of JF&CS CHAI Works-South in Canton, MA. “Petting a dog or a cat is so soothing, so healing.” For participants in our community-based day program for adults with disabilities, volunteering with The Pet Pantry has been a wonderful opportunity to connect with new four-legged friends — and their owners.

Helping Pets Stay in Their Home

The Pet Pantry is a nonprofit organization in Brockton that distributes pet food and related items to those in need. Founded in 2009, The Pet Pantry helps families keep their pets in their homes when they are struggling financially. “We have served people who are enduring all kinds of situations,” said Corinne Lawson, president of The Pet Pantry. “We have clients who have undergone major surgeries and are paying off medical bills, single parents or those who are recently divorced, veterans, senior citizens, and people with disabilities.”

Since July of this year, CHAI Works-South has been helping The Pet Pantry with distributions every few weeks. The distribution process begins at The Pet Pantry’s outpost at the Animal Protection Center of Southeastern Massachusetts, where the CHAI Works team picks up large bags of dog and cat food, cat litter, leashes, toys, and other items. Next, our volunteers take the donated supplies back to the CHAI Works office where they measure, rebag, and relabel the pet food and litter.

“Preparing the pet supplies for distribution is very instructive,” said Heidi. “Our participants learn to work as a team, to clearly communicate with one another, and to take pride in their work.” In addition to prepping the donated items, CHAI Works participants also make their own homemade dog biscuits and toys to distribute to Pet Pantry clients.

Distributing Pet Supplies

After all of the supplies have been rebagged and relabeled, the CHAI Works team heads over to Sullivan Towers, an affordable housing development in Brockton, to distribute the items. “Visiting Sullivan Towers is such a meaningful experience for our participants,” said Heidi. “They really enjoy having the chance to interact directly with the people and animals they are helping.”

During each distribution, the CHAI Works volunteers set up a table with all of the available pet supplies, so residents at the complex can “go shopping” for the items they need. This marketplace-style distribution presents a great opportunity for CHAI Works participants to practice their social skills.

Before volunteer sessions, Heidi and the CHAI Works staff help participants think about appropriate conversation topics and questions. The residents of Sullivan Towers always give our volunteers a very warm reception. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for residents to hang around after they have finished shopping so they can keep chatting with our participants!

A Rewarding Partnership

Of course, a highlight of the volunteer experience is meeting the residents’ pets! During most visits to Sullivan Towers, some of the residents will bring their furry friends to the distribution. “Interacting with the dogs and cats at the apartment complex is a blast for the CHAI Works volunteers,” said Heidi. “Most of our participants don’t have pets at home, so this is a real treat.”

The Pet Pantry is currently working on converting a semi-trailer into a new distribution/storage center and hopes to expand its services to more communities. As The Pet Pantry grows, Heidi hopes that CHAI Works-South can help the organization in new ways. “Partnering with The Pet Pantry has been such a joy for our participants,” said Heidi. “We believe so strongly in their mission, and we can’t wait to see what is next for them.”

JF&CS Day Programming and Employment Services create meaningful and fulfilling opportunities for individuals with disabilities to lead productive and integrated lives in their communities and increase their feelings of self-worth and confidence. For more information, visit us online or call 781-647-5327.

Deb Shrier
December 13, 2019

Posted by Deb Shrier

Deb Shrier

Welcome to Humans of JF&CS! Periodically, we will be featuring different staff members to highlight the amazing work they do.

Behind our 40+ programs are compassionate, committed, and dedicated staff who care deeply about our mission and our agency. With this broad range of programs comes a team of staff members with diverse interests, passions, and skills, who all share a deep commitment to building a strong foundation of well-being and resilience for our clients. We hope these staff spotlights give you a taste of the incredible individuals behind our services and a sense of the deep compassion and dedication they bring every day.

I’m part of the Adoption resources team at JF&CS. I conduct home studies with pre-adoptive individuals or couples, give expectant parent counseling, and provide search and reunion work. I began working at JF&CS after Betsy Hochberg, Director of Adoption Resources, and I met at a conference years ago. I was working at a different adoption agency at the time, but our tables were located right next to one another. We talked about our personal and professional link to adoption and the real need for post-adoption services for families. Six months later, our similar thinking on post-adoption services led me to working at JF&CS with Betsy. 

The most exciting part about what I do is getting to work with so many different types of clients and hear everyone’s unique story. Listening to these personal reflections informs the way I do my work. I’ve learned a great deal from my clients over the years and I’ve made important changes in my clinical approach. There are so many different aspects to my work that it never gets dull or boring!  

I’m so proud of the work done throughout the agency to make a difference in people’s lives. Whatever part of the organization we work in, we’re working towards the same goal. I also love having so many intelligent and knowledgeable colleagues. I know I can always find the answer to any question or find an important resource! JF&CS is truly a very special place to work.  

Marjie Sokoll speaking at The Selfhelp Home in Chicago.
December 11, 2019

Posted by JF&CS

Marjie Sokoll speaking at The Selfhelp Home in Chicago.

Marjie Sokoll, the Director of the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Jewish Healing at JF&CS, recently visited Chicago to offer three interactive presentations on the Spirited Aging program. Launched by Marjie in 2014, the Spirited Aging program supports people of all ages and backgrounds in their search to find meaning, joy, and spirituality in their lives as they grow older. While in Chicago, Marjie spoke at The Selfhelp Home, Temple Emanuel, and Jewish Child and Family Services.

Marjie was invited to Chicago by Debbie Lipsett, a member of the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Jewish Healing Advisory Council. Chicago is Debbie’s hometown, and she has developed meaningful connections with the organizations that Marjie spoke to during her trip. “Everyone loved Marjie’s warm, engaging, and empathetic style,” said Debbie. “They would love to see her come back for another visit!”  

Debbie and Marjie have known each other for several years, and last November, they were the inspiring guest artists at the JF&CS Memory Café, where they presented on Spirited Aging through Movement and Music.

Along with her colleagues, Barbara Sternfield and Sue Spielman, Marjie has been privileged to have many opportunities to present on Spirited Aging to older adults and aging services providers, and she was excited to bring the program to Chicago.

Combating Ageism

Marjie Sokoll presenting on Spirited Aging at The Selfhelp Home in Chicago.One of the key messages Marjie shared during her presentations in Chicago was the damaging effects of ageism. How serendipitous then, that when she arrived at Logan Airport to fly to Chicago, she saw the pioneering anti-ageism campaign of Boston’s new Age Strong Commission. Large digital photos of older adults ranging in age from 67 to 103 were flashing on the big screen with the tagline, “I’m a lot of things and CRANKY, FRAIL, OVER THE HILL isn’t one of them. I #AgeStrong. How do you?” In a profile about the multimedia campaign, The Boston Globe wrote, “In increasingly woke Boston, some call it [ageism] the last socially acceptable bias.”

While presenting at The Selfhelp Home in Chicago, a continuing care retirement community, Marjie asked attendees to share their age, if they felt comfortable, and to share their thoughts about aging. A 102-year-old woman at the event said, “Age should not be a criteria for describing how a person should be known.” Marjie told her that she couldn’t agree more! In fact, the woman’s comment reminded Marjie of Ashton Applewhite, the writer and activist, who delivered a popular TED Talk titled “Let’s End Ageism.” In her talk, she defines ageism as “discrimination and stereotyping on the basis of age” and explains that “stereotypes are always a mistake, of course, but especially when it comes to age, because the longer we live, the more different from one another we become. ”

The presentation at Temple Emanuel was a Kick-Off Event to start discussions on aging and growing older. It was open to the public, and the room was filled with people of all different backgrounds. The rich discussion involved many topics, including ageism, which research shows can affect well-being. These types of discussions underscore the purpose of the Spirited Aging program and are very helpful when navigating the experience of growing older.

Aging and Resilience

Howard Sitron, Debbie Lipsett, and Marjie SokollFor her final presentation at Jewish Child and Family Services in Chicago, Marjie drew upon the Spirited Aging program she runs for the JF&CS staff in Waltham. “The workplace is ideal for the Spirited Aging program because it is so multigenerational,” said Marjie. “It is wonderful when we can discuss meaningful topics with staff of all ages, and we know from research that bringing different generations together is one of the most effective ways to combat ageism.” Marjie felt inspired being with her Chicago colleagues as they shared their own experiences, personally and professionally.  

Marjie ended the presentation by quoting Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, who wrote about his own aging in his autobiography, Recollections. His words highlight the importance of flexibility, resilience, and the continuing need to grow as a human being. “I don’t mind getting old,” wrote Frankl. “As I say, aging doesn’t bother me as long as I have reason to believe that I am also maturing. Perhaps this is still going on, since now I see the flaws in a manuscript I finished two weeks ago.”

For information on all of the JF&CS programs geared toward older adults, visit our Services for Older Adults page.

A group of kids fundraising for Family Table with a lemonade stand.
December 6, 2019

Posted by JF&CS

A group of kids fundraising for Family Table with a lemonade stand.

Just in time for the holidays, Jewish Family & Children’s Service is launching a brand new fundraising initiative! We are excited to announce that supporters of JF&CS can now fundraise on behalf of our Family Table food pantry.

About Family Table

The mission of JF&CS Family Table is to end hunger in the Greater Boston Jewish community while serving people who need our assistance regardless of religious affiliation. We fulfill this mission by providing kosher food, creating a caring Jewish connection, and empowering people to make healthy eating a part of their daily lives.

“Family Table is a program that is wholly dependent on support from the community,” said Bernice Behar, Director of Family Table. “We are so grateful for the food donations we receive from local synagogues and schools and for the thousands of volunteers who pack and deliver groceries to our clients.”

In addition to food donations and volunteers, Family Table also depends on financial contributions to keep our pantries stocked. The launch of our fundraising initiative offers a new way to support Family Table and gives your family and friends the chance to contribute as well.

How Fundraising for Family Table Works

There are three ways to fundraise for Family Table:

No matter which type of fundraiser you choose, JF&CS makes the process easy by providing ideas, tips, and custom donation links. All you need to do to get started is to click one of the links above and complete the relevant form.  

An anonymous donor is currently matching gifts dollar for dollar, so every donation your fundraiser receives will double in impact!

Holiday Fundraising Ideas

The holiday season is the perfect time for a Family Table fundraiser! Here are just a few seasonally-themed ideas to inspire you:

  • Throw a holiday party and ask everyone to donate to Family Table instead of bringing gifts for a Yankee Swap.
  • Sell holiday treats (e.g. sufganiyot, holiday cookies) at your religious institution, school, or community center.
  • Encourage your children to “donate a gift” to Family Table. This could mean skipping gifts on one night of Chanukkah or forgoing a holiday present in exchange for a donation to Family Table.
  • Instead of doing a Secret Santa at your office, encourage your coworkers to donate to Family Table.
  • Start a Facebook fundraiser for Family Table that runs through all eight nights of Chanukkah or between Christmas and New Year’s.

Of course, fundraising for Family Table isn’t limited to December; it’s something you can do all year round. To start planning your fundraiser, visit our Fundraise for Family Table page. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact Terri Grogan, Senior Development Officer, at 781-693-5707 or

A group of older adults enjoying an Arthritis Exercise Class.
December 4, 2019

Posted by Hilary Tolan, JF&CS Aging Well at Home Program Manager   

A group of older adults enjoying an Arthritis Exercise Class.

On a crisp, sunny day in November, a group of residents at Brookline Housing Authority joined me for an Arthritis Exercise Class. Participation ranged from a couple of younger residents with disabilities to residents who are well into their 80s. The program is one hour a week over eight weeks and is designed for people with arthritis and anyone interested in a gentle approach to exercise. Each participant comes with widely varying degrees of health and fitness ability.

The Arthritis Exercise Class is a perfect fit for Aging Well at Home, which provides a range of services that support the well-being 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.

Certified Arthritis Exercise Instruction

A year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to become a certified exercise instructor through the Arthritis Foundation. This involved a six-month course and passing a final exam. I have been a student at many yoga classes and taken tai chi (both of which have informed my current teaching), but leading an exercise class has been a new and exciting experience for me. My background is as an art educator and artist, and I use my teaching background to inform how I design and think about best practices when instructing the class.

The Arthritis Foundation manual has medical information about the many forms of arthritis, exercise and safety tips, and illustrations of exercises that the Arthritis Foundation specifically designed to be used for their program. From the manual, I choose exercises that I feel will flow well, make a suitable progression, and be appropriate for my audience.

Participants in my class can expect an encouraging atmosphere where everyone takes things at their own pace. Some people may need to do most or all of the class while sitting down, which is perfectly fine. I want people to feel at ease and comfortable in my class. This is not a “no-pain, no-gain” type of situation at all! The class is low impact and designed to maintain or improve joint mobility, decrease pain, increase muscle strength, improve energy, and improve overall well-being.

Bringing People Together

A lovely aspect of the Arthritis Exercise Classes is that participants are from all over the world, so each class is a wonderful mix of people and backgrounds. Currently, I have students from Iran, China, Bulgaria, and the United States. Another great element of the class is that a few participants follow me from building to building because they enjoy the class and get the most benefit from continuing it on an ongoing basis. I affectionately refer to them as my exercise “groupies!”

Feedback from participants has been very positive. In a class survey, one participant shared, “I really enjoyed this class. The teacher talked about how to work these exercises into your daily life and discussed safety. She kept the class very non-competitive.” Another participant wrote, “Hilary has a warm and encouraging manner. I found that my overall muscular health improved. Thank you!”

I am so pleased that the Arthritis Exercise Class is helping older adults feel stronger and more positive about their overall health.

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

Madison Kronheim, JFCS music therapist.jpg
November 26, 2019

Posted by Madison Kronheim

A version of this article was first published in the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development Newsletter. In addition to working as a music therapist at JF&CS, Madison is also pursuing a master’s degree in special education at BU Wheelock.

For the past year, I have worked as a board-certified music therapist for two JF&CS programs: Kids’ Connection Corner and HALO Swim & Sing. Kids’ Connection Corner is a free program for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) where we focus on building social skills through arts and crafts, outdoor play, and music therapy. HALO Swim & Sing is a respite program for kids and young adults with neurological disabilities where participants receive music therapy services and go swimming in a pool with trained staff.

Building Skills Through Music

Music therapy is the clinical use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals in a therapeutic setting. Research has supported the use of music therapy for those with ASD to assist in speech, motor, academic, and behavioral objectives. For many people with ASD, music therapy can be a successful way to work on flexibility in activities within a structured environment. The benefits of music therapy can include reduced anxiety, enhanced body awareness and coordination, verbalization, increased attention to task, and increased appropriate social behavior. These skills are also accessible for people with neurological disabilities since music has been scientifically proven to activate both sides of the brain at the same time.

During my music therapy sessions, I play instruments or recorded music based on the theme of the week, which usually has to do with seasons, holidays, or other events happening during the year. With the assistance of other staff members, I prompt students to play specific rhythms, sing, dance, and play other games. While the kids are doing these tasks, they are working on fine/gross motor skills, self-regulation, and appropriate social behaviors without even realizing it. This time that we spend together creates a sense of community among the participants and gives them the confidence that they deserve.

Striking the Right Chord

Because life happens, I always have a backup plan in case the mood changes or a lesson is not working. I find it important to match the energy in the room. Through an evidence-based practice called the “iso-principle”, I try to match the energy of the participants and then gradually change the music to where I’d like them to be.

In the end, I want everyone to feel good about themselves, regardless of ability. I am the luckiest person in the world to do what I do and learn from my participants how neurodiversity makes the world a better place.

To learn more about our programs for people with disabilities, visit our CHAI Services page.

Terri Grogan
November 21, 2019

Posted by Terri Grogan

Terri Grogan
Welcome to Humans of JF&CS! Periodically, we will be featuring different staff members to highlight the amazing work they do.

Behind our 40+ programs are compassionate, committed, and dedicated staff who care deeply about our mission and our agency. With this broad range of programs comes a team of staff members with diverse interests, passions, and skills, who all share a deep commitment to building a strong foundation of well-being and resilience for our clients. We hope these staff spotlights give you a taste of the incredible individuals behind our services and a sense of the deep compassion and dedication they bring every day.

I'm a Senior Development Officer. I raise funds, but really what I'm doing is building relationships and working with volunteers and donors to foster their engagement with the agency. I get to learn what excites people about the organization and connect them to that area. I love working with donors and volunteers and really finding out what their passion is, and then finding out a way to connect them to what we do.

The thing I like a lot is when I’m working with couples, the ability to engage both with the agency in different ways that most interest them. It’s a unique quality of JF&CS. I have several couples where this is the case, so it’s always exciting to me when that happens, and people can truly find their passion separately. It’s an opportunity I love sharing with people as I meet them, especially couples who are interested in getting involved.  

All around, I love what I do. My favorite part is the people, whether it be the staff, the donors, or the volunteers, it’s the people.

Gail Schulman - the new CEO of JF&CS
November 19, 2019

Gail Schulman - the new CEO of JF&CSPosted by Jamie Grossman and Steve Weil

We are excited to announce that the JF&CS Board of Directors voted unanimously to appoint Gail Schulman as the new Chief Executive Officer of Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS). Gail’s appointment follows an eight-month national search.

Gail is currently Chief Operating Officer at Gann Academy, Greater Boston’s independent Jewish High School. There, she is responsible for all of Gann's business functions, including finance, human resources, marketing, facilities, and operations. She also oversees and implements strategic initiatives at the school. Prior to joining Gann in 2016, she spent more than 20 years leading complex businesses in the high-tech sector, serving as CEO and COO for businesses of up to 500 staff and $200+ million in revenue. A passionate volunteer leader, Schulman has served as the board chair of Kesher Newton, led committees focused on youth and education at Temple Reyim, and served as fundraising and recruitment chair at Teen Voices. She graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University. Schulman lives in Newton with her husband and two children.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, it is a tremendous honor to bring Gail Schulman to JF&CS as our next CEO. As a highly regarded, successful business executive, Gail brings the skills necessary to manage a complex, multi-faceted organization. Gail combines her brilliant, sharp mind and business acumen with a warm heart and deep compassion for the mission of the agency. Her experience managing complex businesses brings a fresh perspective to JF&CS.

Our search firm reached out to many sources, referrals, and prospective candidates. In early July, the team presented candidate resumes to the CEO Search Committee. These candidates represented a variety of for-profit and non-profit sectors, backgrounds in healthcare, Jewish communal organizations, higher education, advocacy, and social service agencies, as well as diversity in gender and cultural background. Candidates were both local and from different parts of the country.

This is a critical and exciting moment in our agency's history. We are fortunate to have Carl Zack as our Interim CEO, who is leading the agency with a firm and steady hand and a heart that cares deeply about every client we serve. Carl is committed to his role until Gail officially joins JF&CS after the new year.

Beth Soltzberg and her daughter Rachel Barglow.
November 14, 2019

Posted by Rachel Barglow

Beth Soltzberg and her daughter Rachel Barglow.

Rachel Barglow shared what it was like to see her mom, Beth Soltzberg, speak about her experience with the JF&CS Memory Café at TEDx Waltham last month. Rachel is a sophomore at Arlingon High School, and has volunteered at our Memory Café in the past. 

When I was six, I made my mom a card wishing her good luck on a work project. I had drawn a little stick figure version of her, and a little stick figure version of me, and words that were egregiously misspelled. Back then, as eager as I was to support her, I still wasn’t really sure what she did for work. I knew she worked with older adults in some form of health care - that was it. Now I’m sixteen and much better at spelling, but I’m also old enough to see the huge difference she’s making in her field and in the lives of those affected by dementia.

She’s been involved with memory cafés for as long as I can remember, and that’s what I tell friends about when they ask what my mother does for work. While growing up, I watched memory cafés be in what feels like a continuous state of expansion. It’s not uncommon for my mom to come home and tell me that a memory café in Brazil or Ireland is now using her toolkit, or she’s flying to some other state to present at a conference. And now, a TED talk? Teachers in school use TED Talks as part of their curriculum and they’ve always existed in some mysterious other dimension. One never knows when or where they were recorded, or how they choose the speakers, or who the audience is. For this reason, I was quite surprised when my mom came home and told us she was applying to speak at TEDx. Was this allowed? Is that a thing people can do?

Turns out, it was, and she got it. Suddenly she had a script to write, and slides to make, and photos to select, and an outfit to choose. For about a month before her talk I heard several renditions of the final presentation and gave my suggestions along with the rest of our friends and family. For two weeks before her talk she walked around our house, tossing a foam ball from hand to hand and reciting her presentation to herself over and over. It was at the forefront of our minds, not only at home or with family, but also while I was with my friends or at school, as I loved (and still love) bragging about it as much as possible.

After a huge amount of work and a smaller amount of stress, the day was here. She did fantastic, of course. I ate a lot of good food and met some incredible people, including a man who rode his motorcycle across the Himalayas, a woman who performed opera like I’ve never heard it before, and a man who could fit a year’s worth of trash in a single bag.

One thing that struck me is the emotional reaction that many audience members had to my mother’s talk. Multiple people came up to her afterwards to tell her their own personal stories about dementia, or ask for advice, or find out how they can volunteer at a memory café. She listened to them, gave thoughtful answers, and handed out her business cards to several people. It really showed me how universal this topic is. A very large portion of our population struggles with dementia, whether the diagnosis is theirs, a family member’s, or a friend’s. My mother’s work truly makes a difference to so many people, and I couldn’t be prouder of her for all the work that she has selflessly put into helping others.

To learn more about the JF&CS Memory Café, visit our Alzheimer's/Related Disorders Family Support page.

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!

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