Come Along with Us…on a Trip Upstate, to the Catskills!

By Leora W. Issaacs Ph.D., JFS Board Member

Are you suffering from a case of cabin fever? Has staying at home due to COVID and the winter doldrums gotten you down? Could you use a “pick-me-up” to brighten your spirits and satisfy your wanderlust? Jewish Family Service of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties (JFS) has just the remedy to cure what ails you!

Join JFS for a virtual trip (via ZOOM) upstate to the glorious Catskill Mountains on Sunday, April 25 at 7 PM. In its heyday, “The Borscht Belt” was a getaway for East Coasters starting in the 1940s. Families would spend summers, vacations and holidays away from the hustle and bustle of the city at the lavish resorts that featured endless menus, comedians and shows, and myriad forms of recreation. While the legendary Catskill resorts are no more, many people have wonderful memories — and the area is experiencing a renaissance!

The April 25 program will provide the perfect combination of entertainment and enlightenment. It will feature Stand-up Comedienne Robin Fox who will MC the evening and perform. A former stay-at-home mom, Fox headlines in top comedy clubs and events all over the Northeast, and has won numerous comedy competitions. She will be joined by the noted historian John Conway who is an authority on “all things Catskills.” Born and raised in Sullivan County, Conway is the author of eight books about the Catskills, teaches at SUNY-Sullivan and is a popular speaker on the lecture circuit.

JFS will also be holding a raffle in conjunction with the program. Valued at $900, the raffle prize includes a 2-night stay and daily breakfast at the Arnold House, a lively get-away located in the “new Catskills” on Shandalee Mountain near the quaint town of Livingston Manor. The property features a Tavern and Spa as well as easy access to the area's storied outdoor activities. The prize package also includes a $150 gift certificate for dinner or the spa, 4 tickets to the Museum at Bethel Woods and 2 amazing books about the Catskills. Raffle tickets are $25 each and can be purchased with or without event tickets. Register for the event and/or purchase raffle tickets here.

The event and raffle will benefit JFS. Serving the community since 1980, JFS is a leading, forward-thinking, highly-respected and non-sectarian social service agency whose doors are open to the whole community, serving clients of all backgrounds (race, religion, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic background, gender, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability). JFS can help you address your problems, explore alternatives, develop new insights, and find solutions through a continuum of services including mental health counseling, geriatric assessments, counseling and case management, Family Mentor Program, career counseling, Ohr Tikvah Jewish Healing Program, services for individuals with disabilities and their families, and services for Holocaust Survivors. If you are interested in learning more about JFS' programs, please contact us at (908)725-7799, email us at Admin@JewishFamilySvc.org, or click the navigation tabs above.


Resolve to Get Involved

By Ruth Edelman, MSW

A new year brings change, as we examine our lives and resolve to make somethings better. How can we experience the feelings of satisfaction that come from reaching out to others? Is that even possible in a global pandemic? How can we increase connections to others who may be facing isolation as well as meeting other volunteers who are helping to make the world a little brighter?

Since 2005, Jewish Family Service of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties (JFS) has been engaging volunteers of all ages to get involved with families and isolated seniors. Participating in the Senior Friendly Visitor Programhas been very rewarding to me. I have gotten as much personal satisfaction as I hope I have provided to my seniors over the past several years,” says Cathy Binder Siegel, Plainfield, a retired occupational therapist who has since joined the Board of Trustees of JFS.

The main benefit of volunteering is knowing that I help out some great people that are restricted due to the pandemic. Some of the senior citizens don't move around the best so I'm blessed to be able to make their lives easier while keeping them healthy/safe” explains Zachary Heishman, 22, of Bridgewater, a recent graduate of Indiana University. While looking for full time employment post-graduation, Zach volunteered through JFS' Senior Grocery Shopper Program, picking up groceries for 7 low income seniors, identified by the Somerset County Office on Aging for the program. After he began full time employment, he continues to shop and talk with one of the seniors. “One lady stood out from the rest due to her kindness. She wouldn't just tell me what groceries she needs, but we would talk about personal things. I've gotten to know her well through our conversations. Every time I help her out I could tell how thankful she is. I know she's been through a lot and times are difficult now so I enjoy making her life a little easier.

A client in JFS' Family Mentor Program told us (my volunteer) “was a wonderful companion. We shared many good conversations. She was very helpful when I had bad days.” Volunteers consistently give feedback like this “JFS' program strength is a that they provide responsive staff to support volunteers. I appreciate that a qualified, experienced social worker is there for me — and for families.

You can check out all of our volunteer opportunities — both virtual and through grocery shopping for a senior here, or see specific opportunities:

Senior Grocery Shopper Program

Senior Friendly Visitor Program

Family Mentor Program

Online Tutors are also being sought to support children with learning challenges.


Celebrating the Holidays in the Social Distancing Era

By Debra Rimmer, LCSW, Clinical Therapist, Coordinator, Senior Friendly Visitor Program

The holiday season evokes a frothy mixture of feelings and emotions.

With the cooler air, early darkness, and falling leaves, some have memories and expectations for fun, food, celebration, and times with family/friends.

And the stress, oh-the-stress.

Not surprising, the holidays aren't for everyone. Many people don't connect with the traditional holiday merriment and festivity; instead, they find the holidays (and the people in their lives) isolating, challenging and painful.

Others have experienced a significant loss and are grieving the loss during the holiday season without their loved one. They're just “not feeling it” and want to hibernate - away from celebrating. In the Covid19 era, our losses are magnified - we remember how things were, yearning for “the way things were”.

A New Opportunity?

Perhaps we can transport ourselves back to an earlier time when life was less complicated. We didn't need to be plugged in to constant communication. Children could go outdoors, breathe fresh air and be with friends. Neighbors became family and tried not to leave anyone out.

Blend the old with the new. Incorporate the lessons from the past - give meaning to holiday time for an authentic and emotionally-rewarding experience.

Ideas for Holiday Enjoyment and Taking Control

If you're celebrating this holiday season, how can you find meaning when many things feel beyond our control? Remember: the virus cannot steal your spirit or intention!

Plan in advance how you want to spend your time and with whom.

If you feel pain or other emotions. Allow yourself the time and space to feel your feelings. Don't let anyone tell you how you “should feel”.

Be patient with yourself as you go through this challenging time.

Consider getting some support for yourself during this time. The JFS weekly “Rest and Relax group” nurtures friendship, safety and comfort. The JFS Counselling Program has a dedicated group of therapists - available to support you during this difficult time.

Create new, memorable traditions.

Think about having / going to smaller gatherings with your mask on; or simply gather around a campfire with cider and cinnamon sticks.

Tickle your creativity bone.

Use your creativity to make meaningful decorations, and even gifts. Plan an event or gathering that will be a stable, stress-free time with a few friends, special relatives or just for yourself. Imagine getting into your most cozy socks and PJs, snuggling up to a good book, fun tunes and favorite holiday-scented candles?

Send family/friends meaningful books - that you can talk about.

Suggestions:

  • Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith: a True Story of the Faith Club; a Muslim, A Christian, A Jew - three women search for understanding.
  • The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams
  • The story of Hanukkah, David Adler
  • The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Trees of the Dancing Goats, Patricia Polacco

Plan a Zoom event or a holiday cooking day, poetry reading, or craft gathering. Make candles, seasonal wreaths or bird feeders. Don't stop there - offer donations on behalf of a charity or group or have a backyard solstice, listen to festive music that is joyful, uplifting and comforting. Play music with a few friends. Invite people to put together care packages for others. Have a pet food drive and donate the proceeds to your local humane society.

Let's find and appreciate simple joys. Perhaps this is truly the ‘light’ many of us are yearning for.


JFS is Open for Business…Virtually

It's been several months since we've needed to work remotely, to promote social distancing and comply with state mandates and we're happy to report our doors remain virtually open as we continue serving the needs of the community. Our staff is working remotely using telehealth, video conferencing technology, telephone contact when needed.

Our staff is working remotely using telehealth, video conferencing technology, and even telephone contact when needed.

Our Mental Health Counseling Program continues to accept new clients for individual, family and couples counseling. Since the spring we continue to offer virtual Stress Reduction Groups to help alleviate the stress of social distancing and feelings of isolation.

Our Career Services Program continues to offer all services remotely including Individual Career Counseling, a Job Seekers Success Group as well as job postings on almost a daily basis.

Our Senior Services continues to provide Counseling, Case Management, and Community Resource Linkage, Caregiver Support, Senior Mentoring Companionship program, and nursing consultations remotely by phone and other platforms. The Senior Shopper Program, which has been flooded with requests recently as seniors have been advised to stay home, continues to shop and deliver groceries to homebound seniors in Somerset County.

Our Family Mentor Program — a family support program utilizing community volunteers continues to recruit new volunteers and to work with vulnerable families remote means.

The Special Needs Program — Expanding Horizons, provides social learning opportunities and support and other activities to over 40 families and young adults each year.

The Holocaust Survivor Support Program serves Survivors by providing individual counseling, case management, nursing consultations, and caregiver support remotely, as well as a socialization program, Cafe Europa.

The Special Needs Program — Expanding Horizons, provides social learning opportunities, social activities support groups. This program has adapted to remote video conferencing to provide much-needed socialization opportunities for the children in this program as well as support groups for the parents over Zoom. Our Young Adult group for those 18 to 35 is now on the Zoom platform and is helping these isolated young people stay connected to one another.

The JFS Ohr Tikvah Program, outreach to those living in assisted living facilities, has maintained phone contact with many of the individuals to helping them feel less isolated at this difficult time.

Our Emergency Assistance Program is busier than ever with so many people out of work and experiencing food insecurity for the first time. We continue to offer the NJ Shares utility assistance program and Hebrew Free Loan Program to those in the community in need of financial assistance.


JFS Responds to Covid-19 With Services to the Community

Volunteers continue providing invaluable support services

While we look forward to the time when normalcy will return for all of us, JFS has, with the support of its staff, volunteers and Board, adjusted our service delivery to comply with CDC and government regulations about social distancing. Although our office closed for in-person therapeutic services in March, we have changed to a system of confidentially providing virtual therapy services for all existing clients. For those who do not have Wi-Fi capability, we are providing telephone therapy. These services are approved and reimbursable by private insurance. We offer a sliding fee scale for those unable to pay the full cost of therapy, and we are accepting new therapy clients. Those who are in need of therapy services should contact our office at 908 725-7766. We are checking messages daily and directing them as needed for a timely response.

We have begun two Stress Management groups — one via optional visual connection with JFS therapist Debra Rimmer, LCSW and other group members and another via telephone for those who do not have Wi-Fi or prefer to participate via telephone. Groups “meet” weekly and run for 4 consecutive weeks. If you would like to enroll, please contact DRimmer@jewishfamilysvc.org. Each group series is limited to 10 participants.

Our Expanding Horizons special needs groups are offering a once a week online connection with the kids to see and interact with each other, as well as our ongoing parent support group. The Young Adult Social Club also continues to meet virtually each month.

Senior Services also continue remotely. All older adults in this program are receiving telehealth counseling and/or phone calls on a regular basis to address their concerns.

Our Career Services program is working remotely, as well. Individual career counseling is being offered by phone and the monthly Job Seekers Success Group is being offered through Zoom.

Volunteers Make a Difference

Our volunteer force has been truly amazing in the face of the needs of so many of the families and seniors we serve at JFS. Our Family Mentor Program was created to serve those who are most isolated — families who do not have the support of extended family and close friends, and seniors and those with disabilities who often live alone and may, in fact have been homebound prior to executive orders issued to direct people to stay at home. Volunteers continue to visit families and seniors virtually… through Zoom calls, Skype, and telephone. Some have visited through a window, or sitting in front of the house in their car, while talking on the phone. They have built caring relationships and this phone or face to face contact is very reassuring in these unstable times. Others have dropped off food, assisted with picking up medication so that our oldest or frailest seniors do not have to go out. Volunteers are helping children with school assignments while parents are working from home.

Our Senior Grocery Shopper Program is also very fortunate to have a cadre of volunteers who have been providing grocery shopping for frail seniors referred for the service by the Somerset County Office on Aging prior to the Covid 19 outbreak. Volunteers in this ongoing program, funded by Title III of the Older Americans Act and JFS fundraising demonstrate their commitment to the seniors through continuing these volunteered grocery shopping and home delivery even during this pandemic. The reassurance of home delivered food and contract from someone that they have relied upon in the past, has been tremendously reassuring for these seniors.

Without the dedication and caring of the volunteers who work with these families and the support of the staff all along the way, we know these people would feel abandoned in their time of need. JFS continues to recruit and train volunteers during this pandemic. Volunteers are finding meaningful ways to engage and utilize their time to support those who are most vulnerable in ways that they can also feel safe and comfortable. Staff assist remotely with submitting applications, checking references and providing phone and on line training via Zoom so they can become active in assisting especially home bound seniors who are anxious and in need of both telephone reassurance and groceries delivered to their homes so they do not need to go out. Please contact us if you would like to become part of our volunteer force.


Are Career Counselors Becoming Obsolete?

By Elise Prezant, JFS Career Counselor

The economy is improving, the job market is doing better, unemployment rates are on the decline. So, are career counselors frantically updating their own resumes and exploring new careers? Not quite. Unfortunately, even in better times, there are still many people in our community who are struggling with their job search or employment situation. Why is that?

For starters, we live in an area of the country that has one of the highest costs of living; the 10th most expensive state in the country to be exact. In addition, many of the jobs available, are not suitable for every job seeker and often do not pay a livable wage for this area.

The fastest growing job for the next decade, according to CNBC, is a Solar Panel Installer which requires the ability to work outdoors and climb on rooftops and other structures. It pays an average salary of $42,000/year. Next on the list are Wind Turbine Service Technicians, also outdoors and I would imagine involving climbing higher than many rooftops. The average salary is a little better at $54,000/year. Third, are Home Health Aides and while the work is indoors, it is both physically and emotionally demanding, often requires long hours, yet pays the least at approximately $24,000/year. Meanwhile, the population and workforce is aging making it highly unlikely that a large percentage of job seekers would be able to consider these types of careers even if they could support themselves on the salaries being offered.

There are, of course, other “fast growing” jobs with higher annual wages, however, many require specific training, licensing or degrees such as physician assistants, statisticians and speech therapists. This is not an option for job seekers who cannot afford the time or expense of going back to school. The myriad of part time, 2nd or 3rd shift jobs, seasonal or contract positions that are routinely available are also not practical for many.

Younger job seekers, surprisingly, are also struggling, but often for a different reason. A recent study by Mind Share Partners revealed that half of millennials and 75% of Gen Zers have left a job for mental health reasons. While there are a number of reasons cited for this disturbing trend, it is clear that those on the other end of the job search spectrum have also been in need of support in finding new jobs and even a change of careers.

At Jewish Family Service of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties, Career Services are available for anyone in the community who is unemployed, underemployed or seeking a career change. Individual career counseling, as well as job search groups, offer advice on job search techniques, interviewing skills, resumes and much more. If you are a recent college graduate, a stay-at-home mother needing to return to the workforce, a recently laid off professional who hasn't had to look for a job in 30 years, or anyone else in need of job search assistance JFS is here to help. If you would like more information about the Career Services program, contact Elise Prezant at 908-725-7799 x108 eprezant@JewishFamilySvc.org.


Some say Eat, Pray, Love… at JFS it's Cooking, Companionship, Gratitude

By Maris Chavenson, LCSW

From one of our elderly clients: “I love visits from my Cooking Companion volunteer! We especially enjoy trying new foods and, after each time together, we feel more and more connected.”

From one of our Cooking Companion volunteers: “I was looking for a meaningful and flexible way to make the world a little less lonely. The joy and purpose I get from being a volunteer exceeds anything I could have imagined. I leave each visit overflowing with gratitude.”

Many older adults can our community are frail and socially isolated. Many have lost their appetite and loneliness can also be a big contributor to poor nutrition. But, according to Canadian nutritionist Catherine Morley, when seniors are with other people they eat more.

Seniors benefit from companionship, conversation, assistance getting to doctors, or help with basic tasks around the home. In response to this challenge, JFS of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties (JFS) offers people of all ages ongoing, weekly or short-term volunteer opportunities to work with older adults in ways that are tailored to their individual skills, interests and passions.

Now, the JFS Cooking Companion program, which involves volunteers visiting seniors on a monthly basis to cook and/or eat a light healthy meal together at home or at a restaurant, reduces a senior's social isolation with a focus on healthy eating all in one visit! Funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shared with eight other JFS agencies throughout NJ, the Cooking Companions program is currently piloted in 15 of New Jersey's 21 counties.

JFS of SHW also employs a nurse and a social worker who evaluate potential clients and train volunteers about nutrition and chronic conditions affecting seniors such as diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, the volunteers are taught communication tools to facilitate connection with older adults.

Clearly, it's not only the clients who benefit from these programs. In fact, volunteering, according to AARP studies, is good for both the body and soul. It reduces stress and anxiety, promotes self-esteem and happiness, enhances one's sense of well-being and renews a sense of purpose. In a societal ethos too often defined by “winners” and “losers,” pairing volunteers with clients creates mutually beneficial “win-win” scenarios. It is a wonderful way to participate in the sacred mitzvah of Tikkun Olam, repairing our broken world.

If you are interested in participating in the Cooking Companions program as a client or a volunteer please contact JFS at 908-725-7799 or admin@JewishFamilySvc.org.


Strengthening Families Through Mentorship

By Young-In Shin, LSW

Can you remember a time when you felt alone or vulnerable? Perhaps it was after a move to a new area, after the loss of a parent, or a job or simply just a tough day. You may have wished you had someone to talk to who could be impartial and nonjudgmental. Jewish Family Service of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties (JFS) has created a program designed to address these needs for families with elementary school age or younger children. Our Family Mentor Program matches volunteers with families with these kinds of feelings of vulnerability. And, our volunteers tell how much they receive in return; especially the satisfaction of helping someone else by giving back what they have learned.

Ms. Jackson, a single mother to 2 children, was matched with Tina who is also a mother. Ms. Jackson has a medical condition that has left her with nerve damage which causes difficulty in speaking. She struggled to navigate the school system for her children as well as adjust to a new town they recently moved to. Tina visited Ms. Jackson weekly and they spent their time doing different things. Sometimes they filled out necessary paperwork and sometimes Tina and Ms. Jackson just talked. Tina listened to Ms. Jackson's feelings about her deteriorating health and struggles of managing young children. Ms. Jackson said “Tina is a huge help to me and I'm truly thankful. She provides her opinion and helps me think things through.” Tina also feel rewarded every time Ms. Jackson and the kids' faces brighten when she comes to visit.

This is one of the ways our mentors support the families in the program. Our volunteers are called “a friend, a role model, huge help and listening ears&rdquu; by the families. They are a consistent presence and sounding board for the family. Through The Family Mentor Program, families receive emotional support and the volunteers make a difference in the community by building healthy relationships.

The next volunteer training will be held in September 2019. If you are interested in more information about becoming a volunteer or attending the fall volunteer training, please contact JFS at 908-725-7799 to speak with Young-In Shin. If you, or someone you know could benefit from having a volunteer, please call us, as well.

The Family Mentor Program is supported through grants from the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation and the Somerset Board of Chosen Freeholders. Services are provided at no cost to the family.


JFS Launches New Volunteer Programs to Assist Seniors

By Maris Chavenson, LCSW

The research is in… Being a volunteer is good for both the body and the soul? According to the AARP, studies show that volunteers experience greater self-esteem, happiness, an enhanced sense of well-being, and a renewed sense of purpose.? Volunteering can help you stay physically healthy, reducing stress and anxiety. By helping others, you help yourself!

JFS of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties (JFS) offers people of all ages ongoing weekly or short-term volunteer opportunities that can be tailored to individual skills, interests, and passions.

Many older adults in our community are frail and isolated and would benefit from companionship, conversation, assistance getting to doctors, or help with basic tasks around the home.? JFS addresses this need through four programs that help build mutually enriching relationships between seniors and volunteers. Two new programs, the Cooking Companion Program and the Senior Shopper Program, join our ongoing Senior Mentor Volunteer Program and the Good Deeds Corps.

We are excited to launch our new Cooking Companion Program. Volunteers will visit seniors in the community to cook and eat a light healthy meal together on a monthly basis. The visits will provide a unique opportunity to develop companionship and connection. The Senior Shopper Program provides free grocery shopping/delivery services to local seniors and people with disabilities with the added benefit of a friendly visit. Participants reimburse the volunteers for the cost of the groceries.

The JFS Senior Mentor Volunteer Program recruits, trains, matches, and supervises volunteers to work with seniors for a minimum of a year. Volunteers help their seniors in many ways. They decrease isolation with regular weekly visits, act as advocates connecting seniors to resources in the community, go on local outings, play games, watch movies together, or listen to music. Volunteers are able to be creative when planning activities with their senior. One senior mentor volunteer shared the following: “I visit a 96-year-old woman living in her own home. She is so smart and has weathered so many storms in her lifetime.? I feel that she is an inspiration to me, and I know that I am making a difference for her.”

The JFS Good Deed Corps offers volunteers an opportunity to provide seniors with short term support that is focused around socialization, cognitive skills, help with gardening, grocery shopping, transport to medical appointments, or other support based on the needs of the senior.

One Good Deeds Corps volunteer, Judy, spent the last year driving a local Holocaust survivor to the JFS socialization program, Cafe Europa. Their rides together provided the two with the opportunity to learn about each other and the survivor was able to attend a beloved social program on a regular basis.

JFS recruits and trains interested volunteers throughout the year. Volunteers participate in trainings and in ongoing meetings with other volunteers and professional staff. For more information or to register contact JFS social worker, Maris Chavenson at 908-725-7799 ext 100. Anyone interested in referring a homebound older person or a family should contact JFS.


Choosing Happiness: My Annie Hall

By Ruth Edelman, LCSW

Do you know what you want to do when you get old?

Remember how Woody Allen's 1977 classic Annie Hall made you laugh when you were… younger than you are now? How would the film play if the characters were older? What would the message be? New Yorker Matt Starr and his partner Ellie Sachs conceived a remake, engaging older adults in their version, My Annie Hall, casting 94-year-old Harry Miller and Shula Chernick, 74, in starring roles. Woody Allen now 83, gives the film his blessing. “I can only say that it is no fun getting older. It's not that you mellow and get wise. What you get is arthritis.” Filmed in the Upper East Side's Lenox Hill area with talented “stars” from the local senior center, the film, written and directed by Starr and Sachs is a wonderful look at life from an older person's perspective… demonstrating that you can get more out of life than arthritis! My Annie Hall has been showing to sold out audiences in NYC and northern New Jersey. Starr and Sachs were featured on CBS Sunday Morning, and have had extensive coverage in print media for their creative talent.

It comes as no surprise that Matt Starr, 30, would take an interest in older adults. His father, Jerry Starr, LCSW has been the Executive Director of Jewish Family Service of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties for the past 11 years. Mr. Starr has built his career in service to older adults and under his direction has grown JFS's Senior Program providing a wide range of services to frail elderly living in the tri-county area. Matt Starr credits his grandmother for his concept of My Annie Hall. He recognized that despite failing cognitive function as she aged, she still remembered lines from movies and plays and that cheered her. Why not cast older adults in classic films and see how they can bring a new energy, meaning and humor to some of the same famous lines?

In a perfect pairing, award winning New York Times journalist, John Leland has been joining Matt Starr and Ellie Sachs, often accompanied by Harry Miller and Shula Chernick “on tour” with My Annie Hall. Leland frequently writes about issues related to aging. In his NYT best-selling book Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons From a Year Among the Oldest Old, Leland writes about his in depth experiences with six people aged 85 and older. They taught him “lessons of resilience, gratitude, purpose and perspective that apply to people of any age. All had lost something — spouses, mobility, their keen eyesight or hearing. But none had lost everything. And they defined their lives by the things they could still do, not by what they had lost.”