While the entire Jewish and Columbus communities have endured tremendous hardship throughout the past year, nowhere is that more apparent than for the individuals and families served by Jewish Family Services. As a human service agency dedicated to helping people achieve economic self-sufficiency and emotional stability, Jewish Family Services stands at the frontline of care for those directly impacted by both the primary and secondary impacts of COVID-19.
Whether helping seniors and Holocaust survivors access home healthcare and nutritious meals or guiding New American and recently unemployed community members through the job market, Jewish Family Services is ready to help. Contrary to popular belief, the agency does not only serve the Jewish community – they serve the entire Central Ohio community; and they do so, in the words of Chief Executive Officer Karen Mozenter, “not because [those we serve] are Jewish, but because we are Jewish, and our values compel us to serve those who are most vulnerable.”
Mozenter describes the values that drive Jewish Family Services as best exemplified by Rabbi Hillel’s three fundamental questions: 1) “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” 2) “But if I am only for myself, what am I?” 3) “If not now, when?”
1) “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” 2) “But if I am only for myself, what am I?” 3) “If not now, when?” – Rabbi Hillel
“The first question really reflects the fact that we were founded by the Jewish community to serve the Jewish community, and that continues to be a critical aspect of what we do,” says Mozenter. “The second question reflects that we serve more than the Jewish community – particularly those who are most vulnerable.
“The third question is our call to action: ‘If not now, when?’ It couldn’t be, more evident than it is now that there is an urgency to the work we do.”
The pandemic has brought an even sharper focus to the already vital work conducted by Jewish Family Services for more than one hundred years. Over the course of the next week, we will unpack how Jewish Family Services tackles these fundamental questions through the lens of the people they serve.
As the pandemic swept – and continues to sweep – across Central Ohio, people throughout the community began to struggle with loss of wages, jobs and health insurance. While the loss of a job is devastating in and of itself, the process of finding new, sustainable employment is made all the more daunting by the current economic climate.
This was the case for Sheryl Rosen Smith, a Jewish Family Services workforce client.
“Jewish Family Services changed my life in so many ways. They gave me the strength to start a job search in the middle of a pandemic,” says Smith. “The Jewish Family Services program gave me direction. They saved me a lot of time with the tips that we learned about just going through the job search process.”
“Jewish Family Services changed my life in so many ways. They gave me the strength to start a job search in the middle of a pandemic. The Jewish Family Services program gave me direction. They saved me a lot of time with the tips that we learned about just going through the job search process.” – Sheryl Rosen Smith, a Jewish Family Services workforce client
For Jewish Family Services workforce client, Eugene Walters, the employment program was helpful on a number of levels: the agency provided practical resources, they built a community of fellow jobseekers and, perhaps most importantly, they treated everyone in Walters’ cohort with empathy.
“You can also tell that everyone cares about what you have dealt with,” says Walters. “I hope that the members of Jewish Family Services understand what they’re doing for people and that they know the gratitude which is out there. I can tell you that all of the members of the [virtual] groups I’ve been attending — we talk outside of this because we’ve created our own little network — they’re extremely grateful.”
In an isolating, tumultuous time, Jewish Family Services forms close community ties among jobseekers as they navigate the workforce environment together.
The Jewish Family Services workforce programs serve the full range of job seekers, from entry level to C-suite executives. Workforce clients include youths emancipating from the foster care system, non-custodial parents struggling to pay child support, young adults with social cognitive challenges and individuals who lost their jobs due to COVID. Moreover, Jewish Family Services operates the largest refugee workforce program in Ohio.
The Jewish Family Services New American Services department establishes strong, fruitful relationships between business enterprises and refugee populations.
“One of the largest distribution companies here in central Ohio reached out to us based on our reputation of supporting New Americans into these types of employment,” says Tariq Mohamed, director of New American Services. “Once they reached out to us, we did not [just] talk about how we can get people to [the company], we talked about building a long-term relationship.”
“One of the largest distribution companies here in central Ohio reached out to us based on our reputation of supporting New Americans into these types of employment. Once they reached out to us, we did not [just] talk about how we can get people to [the company], we talked about building a long-term relationship.” – Tariq Mohamed, director of New American Services
The Jewish Family Services team consulted with the company to help it understand the unique strengths and challenges of this talented workforce. The team prepared and trained members of the New American community to meet the employers’ needs as well.
The company initially hired seven New American clients, and this quickly blossomed into a tremendous success. In the short months following, Mohamed’s team helped 140 members of the New American community gain full-time positions with the company. Throughout the process, the team helped the company navigate cultural issues and served as a passionate advocate for their clients’ religious needs in the workplace. Jewish Family Services is a local beacon of light for the refugee community and is widely recognized as the go-to place for employment resources and connections.
In addition to workforce programming, Jewish Family Services also operates a wide array of community services designed to holistically care for the people who walk through their doors.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that our services are integrated across the agency,” says Mozenter. “No matter what door people come in through, we get the full picture of what’s going on in their lives. If they contact us because they’ve lost their job due to COVID, we find out what else is going on. What’s their housing situation? Are they behind on rent or the mortgage and at risk of eviction or losing their home? Do they have enough food? What about childcare? Transportation? Elder care? Mental health? Physical health? We look at all of these things, because we know they won’t have success in the workplace if they’re struggling with all these other challenges.”
This was the case for Jewish Family Services client Nazarra Crayton. As a single mom raising four children, her search for employment was interwoven with the struggle to meet a myriad of other demands and needs. Jewish Family Services staff helped Nazarra find stable housing and access food and other basic needs. They assisted her in obtaining internet access and a computer, so she could participate in job skills training and a job search. And they helped her find employment that enabled her to work at home while caring for her children.
“They talked to me and prepared me for my interviews,” says Crayton. “[And their] team gave me calls to make sure I had any other needs with me being a single mom – making sure my babies had enough formula, diapers or any other items that I needed for my older kids.”
“They talked to me and prepared me for my interviews. [And their] team gave me calls to make sure I had any other needs with me being a single mom – making sure my babies had enough formula, diapers or any other items that I needed for my older kids.” – Nazarra Crayton, Jewish Family Services client
For Crayton, this holistic support – not only for her employment needs, but for the needs of her family – allowed Crayton to obtain a job where she can not only support her family, but also grow and thrive.
“Thank you, Jewish Family Services, for helping me get on my feet, helping me find my employment and helping me with any needs that I had with my children,” says Crayton. “Now, I’m moving up the ladder at my employment and I appreciate you still checking in on me and still making sure that I have everything that I need.”
One of the communities most directly impacted by the physical and mental health implications of COVID-19 are the seniors and Holocaust survivors in central Ohio. In addition to the tangible fears of contracting the deadly virus, these communities also endure the isolation and loneliness required to keep them healthy.
Fortunately, Jewish Family Services rose to the challenge to address both these primary and secondary needs.
“Jewish Family Services created programs to ensure that seniors still had a sense of community and they were not isolated,” says Garett Ray, director of Senior and Holocaust Services. “During the pandemic, we really jumped in when the lockdown happened. We started delivering meals and produce to seniors and Holocaust survivors and developed a range of new virtual services to keep people connected.”
“Jewish Family Services created programs to ensure that seniors still had a sense of community and they were not isolated. During the pandemic, we really jumped in when the lockdown happened. We started delivering meals and produce to seniors and Holocaust survivors and developed a range of new virtual services to keep people connected.” – Garett Ray, director of Senior and Holocaust Services
While so many seniors were barred from seeing their friends and family, Jewish Family Services acted as a lifeline to the outside world, providing basic needs such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soaps, produce and much more to help their clients socially distance and protect themselves.
“They’ve said to us things like, ‘I feel like you haven’t forgotten about us during this time,’ and ‘We may not be able to see our family and friends, but we get to see you and we know that you’re going to be there for us, regardless of what our needs are,’” says Ray. “That’s a great feeling.”
One of the reasons that Jewish Family Services was able to adapt so instantaneously to the pandemic – apart from their outstanding team of professionals – is because of support from JewishColumbus.
“JewishColumbus provides general operating support to us, which is so important right now because we need flexibility,” says Mozenter. “Things are changing so rapidly and dramatically in this past year that having general operating support is rare. Most of our funding comes in as program support and it has a lot of strings attached. Support from JewishColumbus gives us the opportunity to be more flexible.”
Thanks to JewishColumbus efforts, Jewish Family Services has been able to expand their counseling and case management services and provide emergency financial assistance to meet the growing demands of the Jewish community, as well as establish a Life and Legacy program to help build a pattern of giving to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
“There are so many people who are struggling right now. We are definitely seeing increasing need,” says Mozenter. “This includes the needs of seniors and Holocaust survivors who are in isolation now and are going to be in isolation for a very long time. They’re going to be among the last people who are really able to be out in society again.”
“There are so many people who are struggling right now. We are definitely seeing increasing need. This includes the needs of seniors and Holocaust survivors who are in isolation now and are going to be in isolation for a very long time. They’re going to be among the last people who are really able to be out in society again.” – Karen Mozenter, Chief Executive Officer
You can help the Jewish Family Services – and so many more local Jewish institutions – when you give to JewishColumbus. We support the Jewish Community at every stage and facet of life.