A Passover Message from our President & CEO, Maxine Stein, and our response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

April, 6, 2020

Dear JFS Family and Friends,

I write to you on the eve of Passover to wish you all a sweet, healthy, and liberating holiday. Of all the holidays in our Jewish calendar, the themes of the Seder and the chag feel particularly relevant this year. Passover helps us to remember the difficult journeys we have historically faced from oppression to freedom. It also serves as a reminder to all of us that one of our greatest values is the importance of human dignity. It is good to have these nudges and prompts in our lives when so much currently seems bleak, unhealthy, and worrisome. At JFS we know the importance of human dignity because it is built into the very fabric of who we are.

I thought it might be helpful for you all to know how we are managing during the pandemic and how we are continuing to serve our clients and the community. We are a tight team of 51 staff, ranging from PhDs, masters level clinicians, educators, case managers, and business people. Almost every single one has become a Zoomster!

Some highlights of this month: JFS received one of the last refugee families to arrive in the country a few weeks ago. Especially poignant was that the newly arrived family was greeted by their two adult children, who had arrived over a year before and had feared that the family travel would be cancelled.

We began pivoting to remote operations mid-March which included changing our walk-in office hours to 9-4 and only open for business needs. We have a small, dedicated crew working at Lenox Street daily for phone calls, mail, financial operations, and other functions as needed. Our program directors, case managers, and therapists are working remotely, engaging frequently with every single client to provide counseling, virtual in-home therapy, assistance with unemployment applications, helping families create remote learning plans, and connecting students with learning content they can study from home.

Our older adult social workers in both the Berkshires and in the Upper and Lower Valley are managing their caseloads remotely, counseling our clients to help address the myriad of issues and concerns they face, especially now. We are even holding three caregiver support groups remotely by Zoom! Our senior refugee clients, who are one of our most vulnerable groups, receive daily contact from their case managers, who make sure that there are enough prescriptions at home and ensure that their bills get paid without leaving home.

Our Guardianship staff maintains regular contact with the clients' caregivers and provides ongoing case management and guidance. They manage all legal work by phone or email so that nothing is left waiting. This month, they even arranged for the sale of two properties for our clients.

Our therapists have become quite adept at remote work and have maintained their caseloads impressively. We purchased and upgraded our online communication platforms and, as of now, are conducting telehealth with HIPAA-compliant tools that protect the privacy of our clients. Caseworkers have begun WhatsApp support groups for their clients. Even our instructional offerings have gone remote, from English language classes, job counseling, working with parents to manage their time to help create structure, develop a learning environment, and maintain peace and calm for everyone at home, to going live on Facebook with our Jewish Family Jam program for young children.

Our Citizenship program remains open for business! Even this highly structured program that has long relied on face-to-face work with clients has now shifted to remote work - the Zoom platform is especially helpful for " face-to-face" meetings and engagement.

In the midst of this, it's Census time! JFS received a state grant to conduct outreach within immigrant and refugee populations in Hampden County, providing education support and assistance as individuals and families prepare to fill out the Census. Designated staff members who have unique relationships with different cultural communities have allotted time for this important task.

And now, it is Passover, when it feels like social distancing is at its most difficult. We want to extend our deep thanks and gratitude to so many of you for supporting our Passover Matzah Fund. We were unable to do the hands-on mitzvahs that we usually do, but still managed to distribute over one hundred boxes of matzah and, with the generosity of a donor, we were able to arrange for some Seder meals to be delivered across the Pioneer Valley. We also plan to follow up this fall with relevant programming around poverty in our Jewish community.

Our Blossom Bash, originally scheduled for May 12, is now tentatively scheduled for early fall. Like so many, we have experienced disappointments that have either minimally or seriously affected our calendars and intentions. The impact of this postponement is significant to our organization; not only is the Blossom Bash a wonderfully fun, energetic, and informative evening, but also a very successful fundraising event. While we hope to hold this event in the fall, we are concerned, as our Blossom Bash fund-a-need auction is vital in helping us support the meaningful work of JFS.

We have been touched by those of you that have reached out and we are grateful for the continued community support. As always, we welcome your financial donations to support us at this time, especially now. Your gifts are most appreciated and can be designated to support any one of our programs.

We have maintained a full staff and continued our strength and resilience in supporting our clients with enthusiasm and passion. Thank you for standing with us.

All any of us can do is to weather the storm in a spirit of hope and caring.

Chag Sameach and a healthy Spring,

Maxine J. Stein, MSW
President & CEO