Posted by Marsha Frankel, Clinical Director of Senior Services

There are 241 miles between the cities of Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk in the Ukraine and 103 years since my newly married paternal grandparents left Odessa for the United States. My mother and her parents left a place called Spikow, Russia in 1922 when she was two years old. I can’t locate this village but know that the differences from there to the modern day industrial Dnepropetrovsk is far greater than years or miles. I wonder what my life would be like if my family had stayed in the former Soviet Union (leaving aside the reality that my parents would probably have never met nor produced me!).

I am going to Dnepropetrovsk as part of a Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly (JCHE) project serving residents of an elderly housing site, Beit Baruch. This housing site has been described to me as a cross between the US version of assisted living and a nursing home. The 60 residents living there are very old and increasingly frail. More than half have some level of dementia or mental illness and require increasingly more care and Beit Baruch has limited staffing.

Since the project began nine years ago, Francine Godfrey, JCHE Director of Wellness and Fitness, has helped develop, consult, and assist with Beit Baruch’s successful fitness and wellness program. She has guided the program to focus on mental, physical, and social engagement for all residents along with proper nutrition.

I have been asked to go to Dnepropetrovsk to provide direct training and support to the staff to improve the quality of life for their residents and staff. Also, I will offer staff support around grieving for residents they have cared for and grown fond of who have died. The goal will be to reinforce staff’s commitment to ensuring that Beit Baruch elders are provided with the opportunity to live and die in comfort and with dignity in their own community. Following this visit (October 11-17) I will remain available to staff for ongoing support and consultation through regular monthly contact.

While there I will blog about my experience and see if it helps me imagine my life if my grandparents had remained in the “old country!” Who knows, maybe I will even discover a distant relative. And just maybe I will be comfortable in pronouncing the full name of “Dnep” as it is fondly nicknamed.

Read Part II, here!

Marsha Frankel, LICSW, is the Clinical Director of JF&CS Senior Services. She has many years of direct and consultative experience working with older adults in a variety of settings.