Caring for Generations

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JF&CS Blog


JF&CS Blog

A collage of Family Table volunteers.
September 15, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

A collage of Family Table volunteers.

Each year, the Simone Lottor Exceptional Service Award honors a volunteer who has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to JF&CS and those we serve. This year, the Lottor Award Committee voted to honor all of our 1,000+ Family Table volunteers!

“Since the start of the pandemic, our Family Table volunteers have gone above and beyond to ensure that our clients receive the groceries they need,” said Ava Harder, Manager of Volunteer Services at JF&CS. “The Lottor Committee wanted to recognize the incredible commitment this group of volunteers has shown, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Heroism During the Pandemic

When the outbreak began in Massachusetts, our Family Table volunteers adapted quickly to new public health precautions, wearing masks and packing grocery orders outdoors. And as Family Table expanded its services with a new emergency delivery program, our volunteers stepped up again to bring food to more than 200 additional families in need from March through August.An outdoor distribution at Family Table.
“When the pandemic hit and Family Table sent out requests for help, I was fortunate to be in a position to respond,” said Allison Schnipper, who has volunteered with Family Table for many years. “In a time that is scary and stressful, helping to put food on the table for hundreds of people in need is a tangible way to make a difference.”  

Howie Sholkin, another long-time volunteer, has helped unload food from The Greater Boston Food Bank and has been a regular driver for our emergency delivery program. “I really enjoy serving clients and getting to know volunteers and JF&CS staff,” said Howie. “It’s such an important organization.”

These seasoned volunteers have been joined by many new faces during the current crisis. “I was feeling the need to get involved in something that provided assistance during such a difficult and uncertain time,” said Marissa Zwelling, who began volunteering early on in the pandemic. While helping out at Family Table, Marissa said she would sometimes become so focused on the task at hand that she would briefly forget about COVID-19. “It’s true what the research says about those who engage in volunteerism,” said Marissa. “You feel better emotionally, physically, and psychologically.”  

Finding New Ways to Make a Difference

Baila Janock has been a dedicated volunteer at our food pantry for 15 years but had to suspend her onsite work because of temporary COVID restrictions on in-person volunteering for those over the age of 70 (these restrictions were lifted on September 8). Fortunately, she has been able to support Family Table by making monthly reminder phone calls to clients. She particularly enjoys calling the clients she used to see in-person each month. “Staying connected with these amazing people has given me back more than I could possibly bring to them,” said Baila.

This year’s Simone Lottor Award honors currently active volunteers, as well as those who had to take a pause due to the pandemic. We have heard from many volunteers who told us they look forward to returning to Family Table when it is safe to do so. “Thank you for recognizing those of us who have been unable to participate recently,” said Sandy Goldsmith. “I miss everyone at JF&CS!”

We are so grateful for each and every person who has given their time, effort, and dedication to Family Table. “When times are tough, we always know that we can count on our volunteers,” said Bernice Behar, Director of Family Table. “They are the heart and soul of Family Table!”

Learn more about volunteering with Family Table.

A smiling mother holding her infant son.
September 1, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

A smiling mother holding her infant son. Our Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms® program has long been a lifeline for new mothers throughout Greater Boston. Once a week, an experienced volunteer mom connects with a parent of a newborn to offer adult conversation, support, and empathy. The program has a robust presence in many areas, and we recently launched an initiative to expand our services in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.

We know that having an experienced mom visit you once a week with empathy, lack of judgment, consistency, and a curious stance can be deeply supportive. We also realize that these visits can be even more meaningful for new parents if the volunteer is a member of your local community.

In order to create a diverse team of volunteer moms who reflect the community they serve, we partnered with the Epiphany Early Learning Center in Dorchester and modified our recruitment approach to be welcoming and accessible to volunteers who live in and around the expanded service area. Some of the changes we made include:  

  • Offering a supervision group in Dorchester to reduce travel time for potential volunteers who live in Boston.
  • Offering the training as well as the supervision group in the late afternoon/early evening so volunteers who work full time could participate.
  • Interviewing potential volunteers where they lived, worked, or studied, to increase a sense of trust, to reduce the stress of travel, and to demonstrate our desire to communicate that they belong and not that they had to fit in. For instance, we met candidates at a local library, in a café, at someone’s school, at their place of work, and in their home.

“With Epiphany’s collaboration and guidance, we launched a fantastic team of local volunteers who understand the unique challenges facing their clients,” said Tracy Rich, Supervisor of the Rubin Visiting Moms Vulnerable Families Team. “We still have a lot to learn, but we are excited about how this approach broadens our ability to support and respect our volunteers and the parents we serve.”
Learn more about the Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms program.  

Mark's Moving & Storage truck.
August 17, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

Mark's Moving & Storage truck.

At the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support®, we often work with parents who are in the process of moving from a homeless shelter or unsafe housing into a new apartment. These parents hope to set up a warm and comfortable home for their children, but they often lack the resources to pay for movers.

In these situations, JF&CS has been fortunate to partner with Mark’s Moving & Storage. Based in Westborough, this moving company has been offering its services free-of-charge to our high-need clients.

“We are so grateful for our relationship with Mark’s Moving,” said Ellen Jawitz, the Family Resource Coordinator at JF&CS. “Hiring movers can cost hundreds of dollars, so receiving these services for free is an enormous help to our clients — especially during the pandemic.”

From the Furniture Bank to a New Home

Earlier this year, JF&CS assisted a family with young children as they moved out of an apartment that was infested with mice. The family was able to find a new apartment, but they had to abandon all of their furniture.

“Our clients were afraid to bring any of their old furniture into the new place because they thought it could pose a health risk to their children,” explained Ellen. “We referred the family to New Life Furniture Bank so that they could outfit their new apartment, but they had no way to transport the furniture home.”

Mark’s Moving came to the rescue, meeting our clients at the furniture bank and bringing all of the items they had picked out to their apartment. Without assistance from Mark’s, they would not have been able to furnish their new home.

Going Above and Beyond

Mark’s Moving recently helped another one of our clients,*Jessica, when she had the opportunity to move to a safer apartment. A single mother of three, Jessica couldn’t afford the cost of movers and had no one to help her.

“I was feeling so overwhelmed by the move,” said Jessica. “But Mark’s staff made everything easy.” They treated her belongings with care, and they treated her with kindness and respect. “The Mark’s Moving team truly went above and beyond,” shared Jessica. “I never would have gotten the couch through the door without their help!”

Mark’s Moving started working with JF&CS in 2017, and they have since become trusted partners for our Center for Early Relationship Support. “When we ask Mark’s to help one of our families move, we know that they will provide the same friendly, professional service that they offer to their paying customers,” said Ellen. “I can rest easy knowing that our clients are in good hands.”  

Visit us online to learn about all of the services offered by the Center for Early Relationship Support.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

A boy remote learning on his laptop at home.
August 16, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

A boy remote learning on his laptop at home.
Many children will be remote learning this school year.    

“Parents are facing a lot of uncertainly right now,” said Sara Freedman, the Director of Disability Services at JF&CS. “Everyone wants to know what school will look like this fall, but plans are constantly shifting and evolving.” As school districts weigh the benefits and risks of in-person classes and virtual learning, there are no easy answers to be found.

For children with special needs, both in-person and remote learning present unique challenges. Kids with sensory sensitivities or co-occurring medical conditions are sometimes unable to wear masks, which complicates their return to a classroom setting. On the other hand, many children with special needs have found it difficult to meaningfully engage with virtual classes. Without the predictable structure of school this spring and summer, some kids have started to plateau academically and regress in their behavior.

“We are hearing from so many parents who are afraid that their children aren’t getting the support they need,” said Sara. “In these situations, a Special Education Advocate can help assess what services a child needs and advocate for the right supports.”

Identifying Challenges and Finding Solutions

The Special Education Advocates at JF&CS follow a three-step process when working with families. First, we help parents identify the specific issues holding their child back from learning and making progress, both before and during the pandemic. As part of this step, the Advocates review previous assessments and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and make referrals for updated evaluations as needed.

Next, our Special Education Advocates work collaboratively with parents and other members of the child’s team to strengthen and clarify the child’s IEP to ensure that it addresses all of the student’s needs. During this time, we track and document progress in all areas and may connect the child with outside therapists. “Typically, Advocates observe the student in school,” said Sara. “Now, they may join a remote learning session to see first-hand how a child is faring in the virtual classroom.”

As the student’s progress is monitored, the Special Education Advocate will work with the child’s team to increase or modify supports. If the student is still not making effective progress, the Advocate will encourage the parents and school district to evaluate if the child requires an out-of-district placement at a school that offers more support in the documented areas of need. Advocates help parents identify appropriate schools and advise them as they decide which one would be the best fit for their child.

Supporting Growth

“When a child starts to receive the right services, the transformation can be remarkable,” said Sara. Last school year, JF&CS worked with *Alex, a 12-year-old boy who was struggling academically and socially. One of our Special Education Advocates reviewed Alex’s IEP, performed classroom observations, and attended several team meetings with his parents and teachers.

Ultimately, it was decided that Alex required a school with more intensive supports. Since switching schools, Alex has excelled academically and, for the first time in his life, he has friends. “It’s what we always knew he needed, but we never knew how to get it for him,” said Alex’s parents. “Thank you so much for all your time and work getting us to this point for Alex.”

Although details about the fall are still hazy, the mission of our Special Education Advocates remains the same. “Whether children are learning at home or in-person, we’ll be working closely with parents and schools,” said Sara. “Now more than ever, kids need the proper supports to stay on track as they learn and grow.”

If you’re interested in learning more about our Special Education Advocates, please contact JF&CS Disability Lifespan Solutions at 781-693-5640.

 *Name changed to protect privacy.

Rebecca Remis, the owner of Birdie's Blooms.
July 15, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

Rebecca Remis, the owner of Birdie's Blooms.
Rebecca Remis, the owner of Birdie's Blooms. 

“I didn’t expect to start a business this year,” said Rebecca Remis. “But when the pandemic happened, it was actually the right time to make one of my longer-term dreams a reality.” After the public health crisis upended her plans to work on a flower farm in Western Massachusetts, Rebecca decided to launch her own sustainable floral design company on the North Shore.

Named after Rebecca’s maternal grandmother, Birdie’s Blooms sources flowers from nearby farms to create stunning bouquets. With a background in sustainable farming and floral design, Rebecca had the knowledge and connections she needed to start her new venture. The only thing she was lacking was capital to grow her business.

“There are a lot of upfront costs when starting a company,” said Rebecca. “As they say, it takes money to make money — especially during a pandemic.”

Applying for a Loan from JF&CS

A bouquet of flowers from Birdie's Blooms. As Rebecca searched for funding sources, she remembered that her older sister had received an interest-free loan from JF&CS to help pay for graduate school in 2008. Although her situation was different, Rebecca decided to take a chance and apply for a loan from JF&CS.

Fortunately, Rebecca’s application coincided with a recent expansion of our Hebrew Free Loan program, which is funded by Combined Jewish Philanthropies. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, JF&CS has added flexibility in both the type and amount of interest-free loans available. Between April and June, we have loaned $86,000 — nearly four times the amount of money we loaned in the past three years combined. In addition to Birdie’s Blooms, several loans have been made to assist people with day-to-day expenses to weather the economic storm of COVID-19 — from making mortgage payments to replacing a broken-down car.

While applying for a loan with a bank or a large lender can be intimidating, Rebecca found working with JF&CS to be stress-free. “Marissa Zwelling, the Case Manager I worked with, was incredibly helpful,” said Rebecca. “She proactively reached out to me to see if I had any questions, and she just cared so much.”

Rebecca was ultimately approved for a loan, and she is using the money to pay for hardware and branding expenses for her business. “This money will make a huge difference for Birdie’s Blooms,” said Rebecca. “Being able to bulk order vases and pay for a professionally designed logo and other marketing materials is definitely a game-changer.”

An Investment from the Jewish Community

Rebecca Remis in her garden. For Rebecca, receiving a loan from a nonprofit that is guided by Jewish values and traditions has special meaning. Growing up in Swampscott, Rebecca was immersed in the Jewish community, attending Cohen Hillel Academy and spending her summers at Camp Ramah in Palmer. As an adult, Rebecca combined her passion for agriculture and Jewish education as the Farm and Program Director of Eden Village Camp West, a farm-to-table Jewish summer camp in Northern California.

Rebecca also views Birdie’s Blooms as an expression of her Jewish values. She hopes that her flowers bring beauty and joy to Jewish lifecycle events, like weddings and b’nei mitzvah. Birdie’s commitment to sustainably grown flowers is also a reflection of Jewish teachings on communal responsibility and taking care of the Earth.

“It felt empowering to be invested in by the Jewish community,” said Rebecca. “It means a lot to know that they believe in me and in Birdie’s mission of helping to create a more sustainable and beautiful world.”

Learn more about our Hebrew Free Loans.

Angela Tucker
July 14, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

Angela Tucker
Angela Tucker, an internationally-recognized adoption educator, led a virtual workshop hosted by JF&CS.

Since the tragic killing of George Floyd, the call for racial justice and an end to systemic racism has made U.S. headlines on a daily basis. For those who work in adoption, however, talking about racism and racial trauma has long been essential to their work.

At JF&CS Adoption Resources, many of the prospective parents we work with are open to adopting a child outside of their own race. “Transracial adoption is something we talk about during the home study process,” explained Betsy Hochberg, Director of Adoption Resources. “A social worker will explore the concept with prospective parents and discuss the unique challenges and responsibilities that transracial adoption can bring.”

As couples prepare to adopt, Adoption Resources offers educational materials and workshops that address the complex reality of transracial adoption. “We want to support parents as they learn and think deeply about these issues,” said Betsy.

Virtual Workshop with Angela Tucker

Adoption Resources recently hosted a virtual workshop titled “Can You Support or Participate in Transracial Adoption AND Fight Racial Injustice?” The workshop was led by Angela Tucker, an internationally-recognized adoption educator who is also a Black transracial adoptee. “We were so fortunate to partner with Angela for this event,” said Deb Shrier, Associate Director of Adoption Resources. “She is an expert at facilitating insightful conversations about difficult subjects.”

Angela spoke about how the voices of transracial adoptees are often overlooked in white-dominated spaces. Drawing upon her own experience and research, Angela educated attendees about common issues related to transracial adoption, shared strategies for responding to adoption-specific micro-aggressions, and led a discussion on how to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for adoptees.

Eighty-five couples participated in the Adoption Resources workshop on Zoom. Approximately half of the attendees were pre-adoptive parents, and the other half were already parenting a child of a race other than their own. All of the parents who attended shared an interest in learning how they could handle tough questions and support and advocate for their children.

“I appreciated Angela’s honesty and the way she addressed issues about racial conflict within a transracial family,” said one of the parents who attended the workshop. “Hearing it from her, although it was difficult, helped me to understand some of the challenges my child might encounter growing up as a Black son of a white mother.”

Ongoing Education

Participation in transracial adoption requires a lifetime commitment to learning, growing, and advocating for social change. The Adoption Resources team continues to consult with colleagues in the adoption community and other experts to increase their knowledge of adoption and race.

“Many of our families are looking for anti-racism resources right now,” said Deb. “We have been recommending books, articles, and videos that share the lived experiences of Black people and transracial adoptees. Centering these voices is key as we work to change society and ourselves.”

Learn more about Adoption Resources.

Wendy Schiffman Wilsker, the Chief Advancement Officer at JF&CS
June 24, 2020

Posted by Wendy Schiffman Wilsker
Wendy Schiffman Wilsker, Chief Advancement Officer at JF&CS
When we rebranded our Annual Report, Impacting Lives, last year, we imagined a report to our investors, recognizing our community of supporters, sharing our financials, and reflecting on the impact of our work in the prior year.

This year, Impacting Lives will share the story of our work on the frontlines, supporting our community during the COVID-19 crisis and in creating a more just and equal society. And while we will report on our Fiscal Year 19 (October 1, 2018 - September 30, 2019), we will also share how we are supporting our community in the moment.

In the past few months, we have been truly overwhelmed by the generosity of our donors and volunteers. Within one week of asking for help, over 60 new volunteers signed up to pack and deliver groceries for our Family Table food pantry. Since early April, we have distributed 1,300 handmade “Thinking of You” cards to our older adult clients, designed by families, school groups, and caring individuals. Additionally, we have raised more than $1 million in response to our Caring During Crisis campaign.

While many in our community turn to JF&CS for help and support, nearly 5,000 of you turn to JF&CS to give back through time, talent, and treasure. We are fortunate to live in a community where tikkun olam, or “repairing the world,” is a part of the fabric of our identity. Because of you, thousands of people have the support they need to care for themselves and their families.  

We hope that you are inspired as you read the impact of your generosity. We look forward to a time in the near future when we can gather in person and share our gratitude. Until then, my personal thanks are beyond measure.

Read all of our Impacting Lives articles

A masked volunteer at a Family Table distribution day.
June 23, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

A masked volunteer at a Family Table distribution day.

“So many people already live paycheck to paycheck,” said Meredith Joy, the Director of the JF&CS Center for Basic Needs Assistance. “When the public health crisis began, we saw hundreds of families go from relative stability to all-out emergency.”

JF&CS has long been a safety net for the Jewish community and people of all backgrounds facing economic insecurity. During the pandemic, however, our agency has seen unprecedented levels of need. Requests for food, emergency financial assistance, and help applying for public benefits have skyrocketed in recent months.

“Serving our clients during this crisis has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life,” said Meredith. “At the same time, it has been completely gratifying and inspiring to watch our community come together to make sure everyone is taken care of during these difficult times.”

Kosher Food for Those in Need

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, our Family Table food pantry was already providing groceries to more than 500 households each month. Since March, nearly 200 additional families have received emergency groceries as well.

“Many people have lost their jobs and suddenly have no money to feed their families,” shared Bernice Behar, the Director of Family Table. “We have also been hearing from frail older adults, many of them Holocaust survivors, who simply can’t risk going to a supermarket to purchase food.”

Chart showing the increase in Family Table emergency groceries since the start of COVID-19.When the crisis began, Family Table quickly pivoted to meet the new socially distant reality. Regular monthly food deliveries have continued on schedule, with volunteers packing grocery orders outdoors. Additionally, Family Table’s weekly in-person food distributions have been converted to a contactless drive-through format. “It took a little creativity,” said Bernice. “But we’ve been able to ramp up our food distributions while keeping our staff, volunteers, and clients safe.”  

JF&CS has also launched a new emergency grocery delivery program for people who need food urgently but can’t get to one of our pantry locations. Family Table has been able to draw upon its roster of more than 1,200 dedicated volunteers to make these critical deliveries.

“We have been blown away by the response of Family Table volunteers during the pandemic,” said Bernice. “In just one week after the crisis began, sixty-five new volunteers responded to our call for assistance.”

Keeping Clients in Their Homes

Since the pandemic began, JF&CS has heard from numerous clients whose finances have been completely upended. When *Lena reached out to us in early April, she knew her family wouldn’t be able to pay rent that month. Her husband,*Brad, had been laid off from his new job, and his initial application for unemployment benefits was denied. To make matters worse, the youngest of Lena and Brad’s three children, a 9-month-old baby, was still suffering from significant medical complications due to being born prematurely.

JF&CS was able to ease the worry and anxiety that Lena and Brad had about keeping their family afloat. The first step was to address their immediate food needs by providing groceries from Family Table. The next step was to pay for one month of rent to keep the family current while Brad’s unemployment appeal took place.

Chart showing the increase in emergency financial assistance since the start of COVID-19.“Lena and Brad’s situation is all too common right now,” said Meredith. “The need for emergency financial assistance for essentials like rent and utilities has never been higher.” While there is a short-term moratorium on evictions and terminations for fuel and utilities, these measures are temporary, and when the moratoriums are lifted, people will be responsible for paying the amount they owe.

“We encourage people to reach out to JF&CS as soon as possible,” added Meredith. “Whether it is emergency financial assistance or an interest-free loan, there are a variety of ways we can help.”    

Navigating the Complex World of Benefits

The economic crisis has prompted thousands of people in Massachusetts to apply for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), but the application process can be complicated and overwhelming. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the SNAP Advocates at JF&CS Bet Tzedek Legal Services have been working tirelessly to help clients obtain the benefits they are entitled to.

Chart showing in the increase in Bet Tzedek legal consultations since the start of COVID-19.“The public benefits landscape has shifted dramatically since the pandemic began,” said Meredith. “Our Bet Tzedek team has been an invaluable resource when it comes to benefit matters, both for our clients and for our colleagues at other Jewish communal partner agencies.”

*Noah and *Sandy were referred to JF&CS by their rabbi after their application for SNAP benefits was denied. Lindsey Daley, our Senior SNAP Advocate, worked with the Department of Transitional Assistance to resolve the issue with the family’s application and identified two areas where Noah and Sandy were eligible for additional benefits. The family now receives $768 per month in regular SNAP and an additional pandemic-related SNAP benefit of $1,197 to provide food for their children while they are home from school.

Receiving benefits and financial assistance makes a world of difference for our clients. In a thank you message, one of our clients wrote, “You have helped me experience the goodness in this world…You are really doing God’s work here on Earth.”

*Names changed to protect privacy.

Headhsots of JF&CS staff members.jpg
June 22, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

As JF&CS confronts the public health crisis, our staff continues to adapt, lead, and share their expertise both locally and nationally. Congratulations to the staff recognized below, and thank you to all of our staff for their tireless efforts to make an impact in our community and beyond.

JF&CS Receives Pillars of Excellence Award for Advocacy

Lindsey Daley The Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (NJHSA) recognized JF&CS with their Pillars of Excellence Award for Advocacy at their virtual conference in May. Lindsey Daley, the Senior Benefits Advocate at JF&CS, accepted the award on behalf of the agency. “Advocating to improve the lives of vulnerable people and those without power is central to our work,” said Lindsey. “We believe it is crucial to be actively involved in taking a stand on policies and laws that impact the lives of our clients.” In June, as a follow-up to this award, Lindsey co-led a national webinar for NJHSA member organizations on how to better engage in advocacy efforts to expand the impact of their work.

Karen Wasserman Gives Expert Elder Care Advice on WBUR and Jewish Boston  

Karen Wasserman Karen Wasserman, Director of Your Elder Experts at JF&CS, recently took to the airwaves, sharing resources and advice on caring for older adults during the pandemic. For many, managing the care of an older adult is presenting increased challenges. You can listen to Karen’s interviews on Radio Boston and The Vibe of the Tribe. “Everyone’s anxiety is heightened now, and often times the decisions around elder care are done in a crisis,” said Karen. “People need us now more than ever.”

Tiffany Clark and Lucy Fisher to Present at Infant Mental Health Conference in Australia

Tiffany Clark and Lucy Fisher Tiffany Clark and Lucy Fisher, clinicians in our Project NESST® program for substance-exposed newborns and their families, were accepted as presenters at the 17th annual conference of the World Association for Infant Mental Health in Brisbane, Australia. Originally slated for this summer, the conference has been postponed to June 2021. Tiffany and Lucy will deliver a presentation about the challenges of working with vulnerable families impacted by trauma and substance use disorder. “We are looking forward to attending and presenting our work with ongoing support and advocacy from our colleagues in Project NESST® and the Center for Early Relationship Support®,” said Lucy.

Beth Soltzberg Helps Memory Cafés Around the World Go Virtual

Beth SoltzbergBeth Soltzberg, Director of the Alzheimer’s/Related Disorders Family Support Program at JF&CS, has played a pivotal role in guiding memory cafés as they transition to virtual programming. Beth is the founder and director of the JF&CS Percolator Memory Café Network, which fosters the spread of these social and creative engagement programs for people living with dementia, along with their family members, friends, and care providers. Since the pandemic began, the Percolator has held several online meetings attended by hundreds of café providers and teaching artists around the U.S. and internationally to share encouragement, practical tips, and best practices. “The main goal of memory cafés is to reduce the social isolation that often comes with dementia,” said Beth. “In this time of physical distancing, this need has become acute. Cafés are capable of evolving to meet it – as long as we work together and share what we are learning.”

Mary Curlew Leads Workshop for Elder Mental Health Coalition

Mary Curlew Mary Curlew, the Community Education and Training Specialist at JF&CS, was recently invited to lead a workshop hosted by the Elder Mental Health Coalition, Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, and the Department of Mental Health. Mary’s expertise in responding to and recovering from trauma was the focus of this workshop. “We’re helping direct service providers respond to the needs in our community, as well as helping them deal with their own grief and loss due to COVID-19,” shared Mary. “People are experiencing so much distress in housing and older adult communities. It made sense for us to equip direct service providers with the tools they need to respond both to the mental health needs of older adults as well as their own self-care.” Throughout the public health crisis, Mary has been leading online trainings on Social Isolation, Coping with Loss, and Social Aggression for a variety of local organizations, including MassHousing and the National Association of Social Workers MA.

Laura Beals Wins Heller Award for Teaching

Laura Beals Laura Beals, the Director of the Department of Evaluation and Learning at JF&CS, was recently honored by The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, where she teaches a course entitled “Evaluation for Managers.” Laura, who received the annual Heller Award for teaching, was the first adjunct faculty member to win this honor. Nominators called her “an exceptionally engaging lecturer and creative leader in the classroom” who “regularly drew on her own experience in the field, drawing a vivid picture for students about what it is like to be an M&E [monitoring and evaluation] professional.” She challenges and inspires students to always do their best work.

A CHAI Works participant painting at home.
June 21, 2020

Posted by JF&CS

A CHAI Works participant painting at home.

Life during a pandemic is truly uncharted territory. This period of upheaval and uncertainly has taken a tremendous toll on mental health — causing widespread feelings of isolation, anxiety, and despair. At JF&CS, our programs have adapted to meet the current social-emotional needs of our clients while helping them build skills of resilience and strategies for persevering during these difficult days.

Creating a Community for New Mothers

While being a new mother is never easy, parenting in the era of social distancing can feel incredibly lonely. The JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support® (CERS) is helping to mitigate these feelings through Zoom support groups and free consultations for parents. “JF&CS is a supportive presence,” said Peggy Kaufman, the Director of CERS. “We let new moms know that they’re not alone, we listen to their concerns, and we’re providing a connection that’s difficult for them to have while social distancing.”

Our free weekly support groups for new parents have seen record attendance, with participants Zooming in from around the Greater Boston area and, in some cases, from around the country. The Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Support Group has tripled in size since mid-March. CERS has also introduced new support groups for single parents and parents of toddlers and is developing a group for pregnant women. “Whatever challenges new parents are facing, we are here for them,” said Peggy.

Providing Direction and Purpose for People with Disabilities

For individuals with disabilities, the pandemic has brought stress of the unknown. Many of our clients thrive in highly structured environments, and their mental health has been affected by the disruption of their daily routine.

When the outbreak began, our CHAI Services programs for people with disabilities pivoted to provide engaging online activities, support, and structure to our clients. “We have moved many of our programs over to Zoom and YouTube to create a sense of normalcy for our clients,” said Sara Freedman, the Director of CHAI Services. “Even though they can’t participate in their usual routine, we’re giving them resources to help create a new routine from their homes with some familiar faces and activities.”

Our CHAI Works day program for adults with disabilities has been offering 5 hours of virtual programming a day for over 90 participants. The Department of Developmental Services, the state agency that funds CHAI Works, praised our virtual programming as some of the best and most comprehensive they have seen. Incorporating educational classes and fun activities like martial arts and art projects, our programming is designed to keep our participants intellectually stimulated and connected with their friends.  

In addition to group programming, CHAI Works is also providing weekly 1:1 sessions for participants and their families to check in with our staff. The mother of one of our participants told us that the online programming and weekly check-ins have helped her daughter remain in good spirits while at home: “She has purpose, she has direction, and she is getting exercise. She is painting up a storm and is happy most of the time.”

Keeping Older Adults Connected

Older people, particularly those with compromised health, are at the highest risk for COVID-19. Due to concerns about the spread of the virus, many older adults can’t leave their homes, can’t have visitors, and are feeling extremely isolated. “The crisis has created a heightened sense of fear and anxiety for older adults, and this is intensified by being cut off from family and friends,” said Kathy Burnes, the Director of Services for Older Adults at JF&CS.

To combat isolation and ensure that we are identifying needs as they arise, JF&CS is doubling up on reaching out to our older clients by phone, mail, and video platforms. Not only are case managers making sure that clients have essentials like food, medicine, housing, and home care, but they are also offering reassurance and links to online and telephone engagement activities. Our case managers are helping people connect to needed telehealth services, supporting adult children and their parents around end-of-life planning, and serving as guardians for people in nursing homes. As people confront all kinds of changes and transitions, JF&CS is responding with assistance around coping with loss. We have also expanded our caregiver and bereavement support groups, which are being held on Zoom.

“These changing and difficult times have cast a spotlight on older adults in ways that have made the risks they face painfully clear,” said Kathy. “Our commitment is to do all we can to help foster resilience and interdependence.”

Learn more about the Mental Health Support available through JF&CS. 

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