Whole Person, Whole Solution: Meeting the Basic Need of Hunger

March 27th, 2012

A few days ago, I met with Scody Hage (J. Scofield Hage), President & CEO of the San Diego Food Bank, to talk about our 11th year of partnership with the Run for the Hungry that takes place every Thanksgiving. Our discussion brought to mind all the ways that JFS deals with the issue of hunger. We have programs that provide food directly, like Foodmobile, our congregate meal sites for older adults, and the Hand Up Youth Food Pantry*, but the reality is that almost every program in the agency addresses and deals with alleviating hunger in some way.

An older adult might come to us to enroll in our On the Go transportation program, only for our program staff to discover from their interactions that the client doesn’t have enough food. An individual might come in for counseling when the therapist discovers they haven’t had a good meal in days. When these situations arise—as they do, often—we make sure that person or family receives supplies from the food pantry for a few meals—immediately. As our case managers will tell you, it’s often difficult to make progress solving other issues until the basic need of food is met.

We also think it’s important to have a case manager present at our food distributions. They talk to the individuals receiving food packages to discover if there are other ways JFS can help them.

This is because at JFS, we evaluate a person’s entire situation. It’s only after we meet a client’s immediate needs that we can begin working on other aspects of their life. Often, many programs within JFS will work together to create a lasting plan to get a client back on their feet. That’s just how we operate—whole person, whole solution.

There’s a term that we have been using a lot more lately—food insecurity. It means experiencing periods where you are uncertain if you will have enough food to meet the needs of your family due to insufficient money or resources. And you don’t have to be homeless to be food insecure: even those working full-time jobs can have difficulty putting food on the table. On average, in California, a person would need to make $26.02 an hour to afford a 2-bedroom unit. (Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2012). Minimum wage is $8 an hour.

In San Diego County, more than 460,000 people are food insecure. That’s unacceptable. No one should go hungry. We’ll continue to do our best to meet people’s needs and give them their lives back, and thank you for your support in helping us carry out this mission.

*Since January 1, 2012:

  • The Hand Up Youth Food Pantry served 3,341 people, including 428 military families. It distributed 62,098 pounds of non-perishables, 2,898 pounds of frozen meat and 15,756 pounds of fresh produce.
  • Hand Up hosted 37 food drives, yielding 9,494 pounds in donated food.
  • Foodmobile distributed 16,818 meals to homebound seniors and disabled homebound adults.
  • Our Senior Nutrition Program is on track to serve over 66,000 meals this fiscal year.

New Beginnings at the JFS Annual Meeting

February 28th, 2012

Last Tuesday was Jewish Family Service’s 94th Annual Meeting and my first as CEO. Since arriving in San Diego, I’ve received a warm welcome, both personally and professionally—from “where to go to get a haircut” to the “best place for cheap breakfasts”, I have been guided and felt cared for. In fact, between lunch meetings and dinner get-togethers with Board members and donors, I have been well fed! And I am beginning to be well informed.

Since I began here, I have been wowed by JFS’s reputation. We enjoy tremendous confidence and respect in our community. I have also been inspired by the work we do. There is a long tradition at JFS—a long history of innovation and vital programming. To stay a premiere organization we can never fall into being satisfied—we must be proactive to retain the high level of service that we demand of ourselves.

Board President Felicia Mandelbaum and Board Secretary Loretta H. Adams

I’d also like to congratulate two individuals who were recognized for their dedication to JFS at the Annual Meeting. Loretta H. Adams, who was installed as the Executive Secretary of the Board of the Directors, was also awarded the Charles Zibbell Board Leadership Award, which is presented annually to a member of the JFS Board who has displayed extreme dedication and a passion for the agency in a leadership position. Michael Stern, JFS Director of Marketing, was awarded the Henrietta Rubenstein Staff Development Award, which is given to a staff member who demonstrates excellence, initiative, professionalism, and leadership.

I want to thank our Board for their countless hours of thinking, dreaming, worrying, planning, and meeting, which has made JFS the leading organization it is today. I look forward to many more annual meetings where we have tremendous success to report.

Final Reflections

January 17th, 2012

Today when I walked into my office, there was a small, feisty ant patrolling my desk, scarfing up crumbs from my computer keyboard. You may not know that I spent a lot of lunchtimes working at the computer. It’s a great time to catch up—eat a sandwich, type a letter, you know how it goes. Inevitably, some crumbs find their way into the keyboard. And so, occasionally, does a foraging ant. “Okay, Miss Ant,” I said to her, “enjoy yourself today, because I can’t promise the same good pickings from the next tenant.” And with that, she scurried away, and I sat down to write to you.

My retirement is just a week away.

First, an answer to the question everybody’s been asking me: “What are you going to do with yourself when you retire?” Answer: Play a lot more basketball, help plan Rebecca’s wedding (actually, she’s been planning her wedding since she was seven years old), and take some long-deferred trips with my husband, Mark. And, continue as a consultant to JFS, which lets me stay part of the agency I love and the people we help.

Since this is my last blog entry , I want to leave you with one thought: it is central to what we are about, and the heart of what we have accomplished in these years. It goes beyond our emergency response abilities, our incredible programs, our emphasis on accountability, and the all-out commitment of our great staff and volunteers. Together we have done more than serve people who need us. We have redefined the meaning of “community”.

We have taken our precious Jewish heritage of compassion for those who need help, respect for the aged among us, commitment to our children and their future, and we have put it all at the service of our beloved San Diego. We meet the needs. Stay the course. Claim the future. And in the process, we have redefined what community is all about.

For that, and for all these wonderful years, I thank you. Thank you for your devotion, friendship, and support. I am the most fortunate of social workers. And I know it very well.

With Appreciation,

“On the Go” Transportation Program Celebrates 100,000th Ride

January 16th, 2012

In 2008, the On the Go program was born. It provided free and low-cost transportation for older adults to help them feel more independent and connected to the community. Transportation to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, the theatre, shopping, and more. It’s astonishing that we are now celebrating our 100,000th On the Go ride – just four years after the program began. We couldn’t be happier and more proud.

Last Friday, dozens gathered at Congregation Beth Israel for a lovely lunch and celebration of this huge milestone. KUSI news was there and ran a brief piece on it that night (watch it again here). I was honored to be able to thank the amazing people who’ve made this program the success it is today– among them, the staff, donors, volunteers, Jewish Community Foundation, and the Jewish Federation.

The volunteer driver who gave the 100,000th ride was Bill Farmer, a retired police officer who has provided nearly 100 rides since May 2010. The rider was Sara “Suzanne” Tell, 80. Both received a plaque commemorating the honor.

I have to say, I’ve never seen a more committed group than those volunteers who drive for On the Go. Time after time, I hear drivers say that they get more out of the program than the riders do!

Another example of a dedicated volunteer is Wayne Bradbury (recipient of our Jack Stern Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service in 2010), who has given over 3,000 rides in four years. At the celebration, he addressed the crowd and said with a smile, “You don’t get any money, but it’s the best job in the world.”

Now that it’s reached 100,000 rides, On the Go isn’t content to rest on its laurels. The program currently has more than 250 volunteer drivers with a goal of adding 100 more this year. Please help us reach this goal and make it easier for more seniors be mobile and independent. I promise you, it will be a rewarding experience. For more information, click here.

Brenda Bothel (On the Go Director), Bill Farrar (volunteer driver), Suzanne Tell (lucky rider!), and David Weinberg (Eastern San Diego Rides & Smiles Coordinator)

JFS Announces New CEO – My Retirement

January 3rd, 2012
Michael Hopkins & Jill Borg Spitzer

Michael Hopkins & Jill Borg Spitzer

Happy New Year! The big news at JFS: the transition of JFS CEO is well underway! My official last day as CEO of Jewish Family Service is January 24, but I will still be part of the JFS family as a consultant. For the past month Michael (read more about CEO Designate Michael Hopkins)and I have been meeting to discuss the agency: programs, staff, Board of Directors, community, and many other topics.  The list goes on and on.  After 26 years, I’ve discovered there is so much inside my head and not on paper. I’m glad I’ll be around to help fill in the blanks over the next few months as Michael becomes more and more conversant about the agency.  I’m impressed with Michael’s curiosity, thoughtfulness, calm demeanor, and passion for our mission. He’ll be a great leader for JFS and the community. I hope you get a chance to meet him soon. I know you’ll be impressed.

I now have boxes in my office to pack up my belongings. Of the papers and books that I thought would have meaning to someone else, I now realize there are several newer editions that make what I have obsolete. But then I find that gem, a fundraising letter written 20 years ago by a past President, a client letter from 15 years ago, a photo of us launching a new program—evidence of how JFS has helped so many and how we’ve redefined the meaning of community. More on that in my next post.

Rubenstein Family Scholarship Recipients Honored

December 30th, 2011

I remember heading off to college, filled with the excitement of what was to come in the years ahead. Today, it’s still re-energizing to be around young college students who are enthusiastic about their education. Here at JFS, we are so fortunate to be able to award deserving local students with scholarships to aid their education through the Rubenstein Family Scholarship Program. This week, eight local students who are current and past recipients of the scholarship attended a luncheon in their honor at JFS-Turk Family Center.

At the luncheon, Board Directors Nadja Kauder and Fern Siegel, and Rita Heller (Co-Chair of Rubenstein Family Scholarship Committee)  and I chatted with each student about their school (Berkeley, UCSD, Mesa College, Wesleyan University, UC Davis, SDSU, and UC Santa Cruz) and their courses of study. I can tell you that we have some future veterinarians, teachers, and financial analysts in our midst.

Dr. Robert Rubenstein, a 2011 Mitzvah Award recipient at our annual Heart & Soul Gala, established the Rubenstein Family Scholarship Program for members of the San Diego Jewish community who are attending college or vocational school. Each year, the program grants 10-15 scholarships of up to $2,500 to students. The funds can be used toward tuition, books, and supplies. Dr. Rubenstein emphasized that recipients should give back to the community when they are able. He received help with school and he believes in the idea of “paying it forward”.

We’d like to thank Dr. Rubenstein and Marie Raftery for making the goal of a higher education a little easier for some of the brightest young minds in our community to achieve. And good luck to all the students – although I don’t think they need it.

Standing (L to R): Mike Levy, Rebecca Koppel, Tom Lebed, Nikita Boborov, Eden Berdugo, Liora Jaffe, Atara Jaffe, and Daniel Brami. Seated: Dr. Robert Rubenstein and Marie Raftery

Standing (L to R): Mike Levy, Rebecca Koppel, Tom Lebed, Nikita Boborov, Eden Berdugo, Liora Jaffe, Atara Jaffe, and Daniel Brami. Seated: Dr. Robert Rubenstein and Marie Raftery

Hanukkah Party for Holocaust Survivors Hits the Right Note

December 16th, 2011

Every year, the Serving Older Holocaust Survivors (SOS) Program throws a Hanukkah party with food, drinks, and entertainment. Let me tell you–it was so lively and fun this year that people from all over the building were stopping by to watch and everyone in the room had a big smile on their face.

Fifteen survivors attended, with several bringing their children and family members. All were treated to a wonderful performance of songs in French, Spanish, Yiddish, Hebrew, and English by seven 4th graders from the San Diego Jewish Academy, accompanied by their teacher, Shani Abed, on guitar. Then, survivor and opera singer Wolf Hartmayer delighted everyone with his amazing voice.

Thirteen year old Daniel Saloner, who raised $2,000 for the Serving Older Holocaust Survivors (SOS) Program back in July, put together Hanukkah gift bags for every survivor who attended the party. What a great way to commemorate the holiday!

33 Bicycles from an Anonymous Donor Sweeten Embrace-a-Family

December 14th, 2011

This year we received a very generous donation of 33 brand new bicycles and 15 helmets for children enrolled in our Embrace-a-Family holiday gift-giving program. They were provided by an anonymous donor who has donated bicycles to San Diego non-profit organizations for the past six years.

The donor isn’t Jewish, but said he selected JFS for his donation this year because JFS has always been a benevolent San Diego organization that gives directly to clients – and that’s what he looks for when selecting where to send his donation. (Thank you!)

To raise the money for the bicycles and helmets, he sent a newsletter to the customers of his business, his friends, family, people he does business with—pretty much everyone—and asked for monetary donations. He bought the bikes and helmets and delivered them to our storage facility last Sunday.

So, why did he choose to donate bicycles? He had several reasons.

“Some of these children haven’t had many ‘brand new’ things in their lives. When you give a child with an unpleasant life a new bicycle, you do several things. You give them pride of ownership and make them equal to their peers. You give them an opportunity to exercise, an opportunity to think and dream, and an opportunity to get away from their problems. For older children, it can make them mobile enough to get a job. A bicycle serves a whole lot of purposes.”

The donor didn’t want to bring attention to himself. He said it’s not about him. I think he wants to let his gesture speak for itself and perhaps motivate others.

On behalf of the Embrace-a-Family clients, we thank this donor for his selfless actions and for making the holiday season brighter for so many children.

Farewell and Best Wishes to Craig Lambert

December 12th, 2011

Craig Lambert, Senior Director of Aging & Wellness Services, is leaving JFS after 15 years of service. There is no way to adequately express in just a few paragraphs the impact Craig has had on this agency over the years. He established himself as a leader in senior care in San Diego and spearheaded many programs that make JFS the elite senior care agency it is today. To put it simply, he will truly be greatly missed.

During his time at JFS, he was instrumental in the establishment of the University City and Rancho Bernardo Older Adult Centers. He helped develop On The Go, San Diego County’s largest volunteer senior transportation program. He introduced the concept of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC) to JFS. Most recently, he developed our Care Management Transition Program in conjunction with Scripps Memorial Hospital, a program that aims to assist seniors in staying independent at home after a hospital stay.

Craig did all of these things and more, with grace, care, and a relentless drive to improve life for older adults. He was always great at seeing the “big picture” and thinking of new, creative ways to address community needs. His commitment to bringing San Diego Jewish seniors the best possible quality of life is immeasurable, and his efforts will be long lasting. Senior care in San Diego was taken to a new level because of Craig Lambert. We are grateful to have had him as a part of the JFS family. We are sad to see Craig leave, but we wish him and his family the very, very best.+

Jill Borg Spitzer and Craig Lambert

North County, Here We Come! Starting With “Feeling at Home with Hanukkah”

December 2nd, 2011

Thanks to generous new funding from the Leichtag Foundation, we are excited to be expanding our reach in North County Coastal now—and for years to come! A new social worker will be housed in Encinitas, where she will connect residents with all the great programs at JFS and hold educational, spiritual, and fun events to bring the community together. We hope you’ll join us for our first program, “Feeling at Home with Hanukkah.” This is a free workshop for interfaith couples, families, and you on Thursday, December 15. It includes singing, crafts, and teaches about the meaning and origins of Hanukkah. Childcare will be provided, too. Participants will also receive a helpful “resource manual” to help them discover and connect to Jewish agencies and programming in their area.  The Jewish community is invited but space is limited (register before it is too late). Click here for more details.

And this is just the beginning! The new initiative, the Jewish Connections Outreach and Social Work (JCOSW) program, will host more holiday events and workshops to create a more vibrant North County Coastal Jewish community. Look for more on our website in weeks to come.