The Youngstown Area Jewish Federation is the umbrella organization for several agencies. They all provide a variety of much-needed services for the Jewish and general communities. But some are more visible than others. Jewish Family Services, with a small staff tucked into a corner of Heritage Manor, isn’t so visible. But what it offers is invaluable.
One of my favorite JFS programs is Our Gang. This group of developmentally challenged adults, led by Linda Kessler, has been going strong for 40 years. Once a month, they get together to participate in a social activity. They go to the zoo, Scrappers’ baseball games, movies, restaurants, Jewish holiday events at the Jewish Community Center, and more. In fact, twice a year, for Passover and Hanukkah, I attend the Our Gang program with my wife Hilari, who plays guitar and sings for the group. The members all love the music, and I see firsthand the participants. It is a wonderful experience and I would invite anyone to come and attend one of the programs throughout the year as a volunteer. Transportation is provided for those who need it. Many of them don’t have the option to do these types of activities on their own. And they’ve become a really close group of friends.
JFS often fills gaps in people’s lives. Meals on Wheels provides meals for people over the age of 60 who aren’t able to prepare a dinner on their own. Between 500 and 1,000 meals are prepared at Heritage Manor every month. JFS delivers the frozen meals two days a week, providing enough dinners for a week or two to the recipients. In a nice partnership, Trumbull Board of Developmental Disabilities helps with the packing, sorting and delivering of the meals.
Similarly, Shai Erez, our outreach coordinator, works with individuals who are isolated for various reasons. She delivers holiday baskets, and helps them find options if they’re in need of something. She also lets them know about the wide variety of services available through Federation and its agencies. She’s connecting them to the community, and that’s so worthwhile.
The JFS staff goes out of their way to help people. The guardianship program is a perfect example. Jane Trambley, guardianship manager, logs many hours providing transportation to medical appointments, managing checking accounts, and much more for the individuals in the program. Recently, Jane received a weekend call about a ward who was taken to the hospital. Though it was her birthday, Jane immediately went to spend time with the ward, and alerted the family. She spent many hours that weekend with the ward and his family. Someone is available to the nearly 30 clients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This program is a lot of work, but worth it.
JFS provides counseling for a wide variety of mental health needs, including depression, anxiety, family issues, financial issues, and divorce. A social worker can even go to the home of those people 60 and over who qualify for Medicaid through the Area Agency on Aging. Many of them don’t have transportation or can’t leave their home for other reasons. And JFS is unique in that it offers a sliding scale fee for people who need services. JFS will find a way to meet their needs.
Another small but critical part of JFS is our group home, located on Granada, adjacent to Levy Gardens. This program, which is a partnership between ISLE, Purple Cat, and JFS, provides a home for four individuals who don’t quite qualify for developmental disability or mental health services, but need a place to live that offers a little help. Staff is on site part time to help with food prep, provide activities, and make sure the house is kept up.
JFS also works with Akiva Academy to provide sex education to students in fifth through eighth grades. JFS counselors are well-versed in the information and able to answer the children’s questions. They do a great job of communicating with the students.
While many outside agencies concentrate on a specific population, JFS serves the needs of a large, diverse population, including the elderly and individuals with mental health issues or developmental disabilities. The staff is compassionate and caring, and makes sure clients get the services they need.
If you or someone you know is in need of services from JFS, please don’t hesitate to call Ken Bielecki, director.