JFS: Helping Heal the World One Person at a Time

Posted by: Ken Bielecki, Director of Jewish Family Services on Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Note from Andy: This month, in place of my regular column, I invited Ken Bielecki, Director of Jewish Family Services, to share his thoughts. 

In August, the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation Board approved of an agency name change for Jewish Family Services. To better reflect the programs and services JFS provides for the entire community Jewish Family Services will become Jewish Family & Community Services (JFCS). As our long standing agency continues to evolve it’s become important to share with the general public that we serve both the Jewish and general community as we always have. Although our name will be changing, with a formal unveiling to follow soon, our mission and values remain the same. We thrive on the principle of tikkun olam to assist each person and family in order to repair the world. I’m proud to share some of our most recent staffing additions and services being offered by our dynamic agency.

In June 2021, JFS hired Laura Haas and Lynne Azar as additions to our professional staff. Laura Haas is a full-time individual counselor with a Master’s degree in social work from YSU. She has a wealth of counseling experience working with all age groups. This fall Laura will be undergoing additional certification for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy to treat individuals who have experienced severe trauma. Lynne Azar was hired as our Senior Outreach Coordinator and currently works part-time under JFS and the JCC to offer older adult programming, in-home assessments, and to coordinate services for families and advocate for older adults. Lynne has a Master’s degree in Gerontology from YSU and is very passionate about serving older adults and their caretakers. Recently, Lynne coordinated the effort to utilize our senior outreach funding (from Mahoning County Mental Health & Recovery Board) to purchase robotic pets to identified residents at Heritage Manor Retirement & Rehabilitation Community. This event was shared publicly and was a heartfelt moment for the residents receiving these therapeutic pets. We are pleased to have both of these professionals on board to assist us in serving our residents at Heritage Manor and Levy Gardens, students at Akiva Academy and the Early Learning Center at the JCC, our employees throughout our campus, and our entire community.

The onset of the pandemic last year brought about many new challenges for pre-existing and new clients that JFS would serve. Our clinical social work staff, Linda Kessler and Vivan Fantauzzi, quickly adapted to offer teletherapy services to ensure the health and safety of our clients and staff. The teletherapy model allowed our staff to reach out to individuals by phone and video calls during times of isolation. Teletherapy services will continue to be offered to those individuals comfortable with it. In March of 2020, JFS eagerly reached out to Direction Home of Eastern Ohio in order to greatly widen the scope of our mobile meal delivery program through federal funding in partnership with the Jewish Community Center. To date, over 125,000 meals have been delivered to residents 60 and older in need  in northern Columbiana, Mahoning, and Trumbull Counties. The concerted effort of all of our involved staff with the expansion of our home delivered meal program was both seamless and amazing. JFS and JCC have also benefited from generous donations from The Thomases Foundation, First Place Community Fund, United Way of Mahoning Valley, Community Foundation of Western PA & Eastern Ohio, Community Foundation of Mahoning Valley, and the State of Ohio. The amount raised by these organizations to assist our meal program totals $132,500.

Despite the pandemic our long standing programs such as our Guardianship and Service Coordinator programs continued. Jane Trambley, our Guardianship Manager, ensured that the needs of Jewish and non-Jewish individuals in our guardianship care, especially those living on their own in the community, had their needs met. All individuals under our Guardianship Program were quickly able to receive the COVID vaccination when it became available with Jane’s coordination. JFS recently accepted a new guardianship case referred to us through our new guardianship contract with the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board. Our Service Coordinator, Cathy Nehlen, continued to assist residents of Heritage Apartments and Passport Counseling continued to be offered to low-income older adults. Debbie Kascak, our social worker at Heritage Manor, effortlessly completed her normal and additional functions in the nursing facility to care for the residents. JFS also assisted numerous individuals and families in need of financial assistance, for basic needs such as food, through our Helping Hand Fund in their most dire of times. We continued the tradition of assisting low income Jewish individuals and families by delivering gift baskets to them for Passover and Rosh Hashanah last year and this year. Linda Kessler maintained regular contact with Our Gang members served by Jewish Family Services. Our office remained operational throughout the pandemic, thanks to Heidi Zagotti, secretary, and Amy Such, billing. Both worked in the office and were vital to maintaining our services. 

We maintain relationships with ongoing and new partnerships that include several social service agencies such as United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, ISLE, Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board (Senior Outreach funding), and the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board (Guardianship contract). In December 2020 JFS and Akiva Academy collected pajamas for a second year in a row for children and adolescents who are served by the Mahoning County Children Services Board. JFS is proud of these continuing partnerships with community organizations that allow us to serve more individuals of all backgrounds.

While change is inevitable, both good and bad, we look forward to the opportunity of healing the world one person at a time.

- Ken

Ken Bielecki
Director, Jewish Family Services 

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