JF&CS News Fall 2014
"My children saved my life the second time. JF&CS saved my life the first time," says Gladys Saslaw, a former JF&CS client reflecting on her time spent in JF&CS foster care in the 1950s. "My life would have been very different if the agency hadn't stepped in."
To say that Gladys had a difficult childhood would be an understatement. She was placed in state-run foster care at the age of four because her family was unable to provide for her, neither financially nor emotionally. Two years later, she was sent back to live with her birth parents, but having experienced life in a "normal home," where there were three-course-meals, clean clothes, fun, and laughter, she knew there was something better out there for her and she longed for a return to that life. Life with her birth parents became ever more problematic, and by the age of 12, JF&CS became Gladys' legal guardian. She was placed in JF&CS foster care and never came in contact with her birth parents again.
At age 18, after having lived in several foster homes, Gladys received money from the Max C. Rosenfeld Foundation to study at the Chandler School for Women. Although she was now out on her own, she credits JF&CS with giving her the tools to support herself and become financially independent. Gladys would eventually work as a bookkeeper and then as an accountant.
Although she has only favorable things to say about JF&CS and the social workers who helped her, being a foster child was not easy. Gladys was moved from one foster home to another every couple of years and some offered better experiences than others. In the first placement, she was essentially the family's babysitter. In the next foster home, the mother unfortunately took ill and Gladys had to move on to yet another home.
Customs in each home were different. One foster family ate meals as quickly as possible; others had a more relaxed tempo. Some families ate in silence, while in others there was laughter and warmth. In one household, she had a 9:00 bedtime; in the next, she had to adapt to an 8:00 bedtime. Her biggest fear was that she would be thrown out, so she made sure to behave perfectly. Even in the best foster homes, Gladys pointedly states that she never felt loved. "Kids with parents always feel their parents' love, whether rich or poor. Foster children don't feel that," she concedes. In one instance, Gladys found out that her foster parents had been reimbursed by JF&CS for her birthday present and recalls feeling deeply hurt that they didn't seem to care enough about her to spend their own money.
As a result, Gladys admits that she did not know what love was. "How could I give what I never had?" he asks when discussing her fears about starting her own family. Through therapy and reading self-help books, Gladys was able to raise her two children in a loving home, even through the trauma of a difficult divorce after 12 years of marriage. For the first time in her life, she felt loved and felt that she was able to return love.
One particular aspect of JF&CS seems to have stayed with Gladys. JF&CS sent Gladys to Camp Kingswood in Maine for two summers in the mid-1940s. "The experience of learning about Judaism had a strong effect on my love of the religion. Celebrating the Sabbath has always remained in my heart and has brought me great comfort. It has sustained me and taught me that there is something bigger than me. It showed me that even though I had no roots, I am still a child of the universe."
Although Gladys did not have an easy start in life, she makes clear that she does not want people to feel sorry for her. "In life, everyone gets a kick in the seat of their pants at some point…the universe will give you what is rightfully yours in due time.
"The secret to being happy is to forgive those who hurt you and to realize that they did the best that they could do," she adds. "You need to make an effort to stay in joy."
When asked if she had ever considered writing a book about her experiences, she says that she doesn't feel the need to reach down and re-live her experiences. If she ever did write a book, however, she would call it, "Don't Bother Me, I'm Living Happily Ever After." And she is thrilled that JF&CS was a catalyst for her positive outlook on life. "I shudder to think what would have happened to me without the concern and services of JF&CS."
In honor of our 150th anniversary, JF&CS published a special 150th anniversary newsletter. View the entire newsletter online.