Written by Evette and Ari Ronner
Presented at the 2014 JF&CS Benefit

Ari, a 10th grader at the Maimonides School, and his sister Evette, a senior at the Maimonides School, shared their JF&CS story at the 2014 Benefit on Wednesday, May 21.

Evette and AriWe, along with our amazing mother, Janet, are honored to be here to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of JF&CS. Unfortunately, our sister, Adina, could not be here with us. Adina has developmental disabilities and is with her caretaker this evening. We are here tonight to tell you about our long-standing relationship with Jewish Family & Children's Service.

In 2002, our dad passed away after being ill for just a short time as the result of a brain tumor. He left our mom with three young children to care for. Evette was only six years old at the time and Ari and Adina were only four. Our situation was fragile. This was when the Jewish community stepped in.

We remember very distinctly our family's initial experience with JF&CS: that first Chanukkah after our dad died. We knew we could no longer light the menorah with our father. Our dad traditionally gave us gifts all eight nights, but given that our mother was struggling financially, she would not be able to keep up that tradition. But the holiday turned out to be a joyous one after all. Unbeknownst to us at the time, we were already receiving food from Family Table. JF&CS volunteers arrived with bags full of gifts as a result of our relationship with the agency. There were enough gifts to cover almost all eight nights of Chanukkah for the three of us! At the time, we were overjoyed, having no idea that they came from JF&CS. JF&CS allowed our family to enjoy Chanukkah the way we would have had our dad still been with us.

Over the years, JF&CS has provided us with camp scholarships, which enabled us to attend summer camp. After many years of attending camp at the Chestnut Hill School, this summer we will be returning to work as camp counselors. Adina has enjoyed time at Camp Jabberwocky on Martha's Vineyard for the past several summers, thanks to the support of JF&CS.

Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters also has played an influential role in our lives. We have developed strong, nurturing relationships with our Bigs over the years, who have also been a huge support to our mother. Ari has been together with his big brother, Paul, for the past six years, and he is the best Big Brother Ari could ask for.

In January of 2013, our life circumstances took a turn for the worse - our mother was admitted to the hospital for what would turn into an extended stay. We were devastated, scared, and alone with no parents to take care of us. Our aunt managed for a week but was unable to care for both our family and her own. Evette was sixteen at the time. Between running the household, caring for Adina, and visiting our mother, we barely had time for schoolwork, let alone social activities. We knew that if we didn't find someone to care for us soon, the state would likely place the three of us in separate foster homes, especially given our sister's special needs. The last thing we wanted was for our family to be torn apart again.

Just when our lives were falling into crisis, Eve Youngerman from JF&CS entered our lives. She began working around the clock to arrange for overnight care for the three of us, recognizing how important it was to keep us at home together. By the end of the week, we had loving nannies coming into our home each night to take care of Adina. Eve coordinated efforts with several Jewish organizations to provide funding to cover the cost until our mother came home from the hospital. This in-home support allowed us to focus on schoolwork, participate in school activities, and lead a somewhat "normal" teenage life. It was an amazing feeling to know that, once again, the Jewish community was able to help our family during some of our toughest times.

In the middle of February, as our mother was continuing to improve, we realized that caring for Adina, given her disabilities, would be impractical. JF&CS helped find a foster placement for Adina, ensuring our mom's ability to get better. Throughout the placement process, we received a lot of support from JF&CS. Eve took us to meet Adina's new foster family and helped us move her in. She even took us to visit Adina a few days later. Today, Adina is thriving in her foster home. Her caretaker, Catherine, is truly amazing; she specializes in caring for kids with disabilities, and we couldn't have asked for a more loving, knowledgeable person to take care of our sister. We speak to Adina almost every night and visit her every weekend.

While at the hospital, our mom was visited by a JF&CS case manager whose role it was to coordinate her services when she returned home. The case manager helped sort through complicated health insurance and other benefit issues, ensuring that she received the assistance she needed to continue her recovery. The support she received was invaluable.

We are happy to say that today we are in a much better place than when we met Eve a year and a half ago. Our mom is doing well, as is Adina. We know our dad would be grateful to the Jewish community that helped support us through difficult times. He would also be very proud of our strength. Ari adds that the family is very proud of Evette who will be attending Harvard University as a member of their class of 2018 in the fall. He noted that, even though their family is really going to miss Evette, they know she has such a bright future ahead of her.