JFS Welcomes New Executive Director

The Jewish Family Service of Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties Board of Trustees is pleased to announce that it has named Shaina Sherman, MSW, LSW as our incoming Executive Director, succeeding retiring Executive Director, Jerry Starr, effective August 1, 2022.

Shaina has devoted her career to supporting and empowering vulnerable people including those facing food insecurity, Holocaust Survivors, Family Violence survivors, and at-risk youth. Her personal values are very much aligned with those of JFS, and she looks forward to leading the talented staff and dedicated board in their mission to preserve and strengthen quality of life for those of all backgrounds with renewed energy and a focus on dignity, inclusivity, and respect. Outgoing President and Co-Chair of the Search Committee, Alex Marcus, stated “Shaina is the perfect person to build on the success of her two predecessors, Tova Freidman and Jerry Starr and ensure that JFS is a leader in the social service community meeting the needs of those seeking our help”.

Prior to joining JFS Shaina worked for the Jewish Federation of Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties as the Campaign Manager, at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee as a Development Officer and as the Director of Volunteer Services for Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. She also worked for The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life in Greater MetroWest NJ as the Service Learning Coordinator.

Shaina holds a Masters of Social Work degree from Rutgers University with a certificate in Aging and Health and was a Rutgers Fellow in Aging. As part of her commitment to personal and professional growth in the nonprofit sector, Shaina is the Immediate Past President of New York Association for Volunteer Administration. She is currently pursuing a Certificate in Fundraising through NYU's School of Professional Studies.

Mentoring a Family: Giving the Gift of Time

By Kate Gullo, LSW JFS Family Mentor Program Coordinator

Sometime in life, everybody needs a helping hand, a listening ear, or assistance finding resources. Right now, stress levels are soaring as families seek relief from difficulties related to coping with a medical or mental health diagnosis, financial hardships, and helping children adapt to challenges at school.

At Jewish Family Service of Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties (JFS), we train and support volunteer mentors who work directly with families to address a variety of life's challenges. Our Family Mentor Program helps overwhelmed families via the caring and encouraging relationship of a mentor. Through this connection, families receive information, modeling, support, and advocacy.

Mentors come from all walks of life – empty nesters, retirees, mid-career professionals, and even college students! Compassionate people collaborate with their matched family and JFS program staff to find activities supportive of the family’s growth and goals. Diverse in skill and experience, all mentors unilaterally offer two constants to their mentees: an active listening ear and their valuable time. One mentor recently said, “The best gift I ever received in my life was someone else's time to listen and be there for me so I know first-hand what a positive difference the gift of time can make. And now, I'm fortunate to be on the giving end.”

Mentors receive regular support and guidance from a social worker at JFS through training, peer meetings, and development opportunities. If you would like more information on becoming a mentor or to join our next training seminar, please contact JFS Family Mentor Program Coordinator Kate Gullo at 908-725-7799 or kateg@JewishFamilySvc.org. Anyone interested in referring a family should contact JFS.

JFS is nonprofit, nonsectarian social service agency serving the needs of individuals and families in Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties since 1980. JFS is committed to serving the needs of the entire community and offers a continuum of programs and services. Licensed clinical social workers provide individual, couple and family counseling as well as geriatric assessments, supportive counseling, and case management services for homebound elderly. The Senior Friendly Visitor Program is designed to provide in-home support, information, and advocacy to isolated seniors. Good Deeds Corps volunteers assist seniors with medical transportation and telephone reassurance. The Family Mentor Program recruits, trains and matches volunteers with vulnerable young families for friendly, supportive, in-home visits. Families with children with special needs are assisted through social groups and parent support groups. Career Counseling helps individuals in many aspects of their job search. Ohr Tikvah-Light of Hope Jewish Healing Services offers presentations and supports the wellness of the community. The Somerset County Senior Shopper Program assists homebound seniors with grocery shopping (referral from the Somerset County Office on Aging and Disability Services is required). All information is confidential. Many programs are at no cost, on a sliding fee scale or payable through third party insurance. If you are interested in learning more about JFS' programs, please contact us at (908)725-7799 or Admin@JewishFamilySvc.org.

Battling the Winter Blues and Providing Professional Care in our Community

By Jennifer Ellis Walters, LCSW

The COVID-19 pandemic, its resulting stressors and changes, and the increased need for mental health care have been well documented in these past almost 2 years since the coronavirus began its intrusion into our worlds. As a therapist, I've seen firsthand how all walks of life have needed to adjust and adapt to the changing landscape, and how that can result in increases in anxious feelings, sadness, and isolation from others. Because winter, even without a global pandemic, has effects on most people's mental health, it is even more important for us to take a look at ways to combat these winter blues, covid-19 mental health effects and protect ourselves and others from developing more serious concerns if these difficulties go untreated.

Here is our list of ways to Combat the Winter Blues

  1. Call, contact, or connect with someone every day, even if only for 10 minutes.
  2. Get outside or near a window — find some quiet time to connect with the sights, sounds, and smells of nature and soak in some much need sunlight.
  3. Stabilize your eating and sleeping schedule — focus on quality nutrition and sleep to give your body the foundation it needs to feel balanced.
  4. Express and validate your feelings and needs — carve out some time each day to journal, paint, write, or otherwise express how you are feeling and what you need; you may be surprised what you discover about yourself.
  5. Exercise — people of any activity level can benefit from movement based coping skills such as yoga (chair yoga for those less limber), walking, stretching, dancing, and other strength building exercises.
  6. Make environmental adjustments — adjust lighting, put on positive music, declutter, change your seat, turn off the TV, and change other visual stimulation for brain benefits.
  7. Give to others and the world — donating items you no longer need, volunteering time or talent, joining a cause, or developing a new hobby are all ways to have a purposeful connection with those around us and have brain boosting benefits.

Despite these efforts, some may still experience feelings of sadness, isolation, or lack of interest/energy that interfere in their daily life. More mental health awareness and openness to share struggles has led to more people seeking mental health treatment and fewer barriers to getting the help when the above strategies are not enough to feel better. In our community, the JFS Clinical Counseling Program can help. This program is facilitated by licensed master's level clinicians who are experienced in guiding people of differing age groups in a therapeutic process in a safe and secure setting, often telehealth during this time. Children adjusting to life changes or struggling with big emotions have one-on-one attention and home coping planning to assist them and their parents in reducing negative feelings and behaviors. Teenagers have someone to talk to who can help them better connect with the adults and supports in their life. Adults have a listening ear and engage in problem solving and communication work. Seniors, battling isolation or medical issues and other changes, have specialized care and support as well. These are just some examples of how our program supports those in our community.

In addition to counseling, Jewish Family Services also offers groups that provide peer support, psychoeducation, and links to community resources in a small, intimate group environment.

If you know of a child, adolescent or family who would benefit from counseling or other programs, please encourage them or their guardian to contact Jewish Family Service of Somerset Hunterdon and Warren Counties at 908-725-7799 for more information or to enroll. Insurance is utilized and sliding fee is available for those who are underinsured. JFS of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties is committed to serving the needs of the community and provides a continuum of programs and services open to all. For more information, please call us at (908)725-7799 or contact us online.

Are Career Counselors Becoming Obsolete?

By Elise Prezant, JFS Career Counselor

The end of the pandemic is hopefully in sight, the economy is improving, the job market is doing better, and 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?

The unemployment rate nationally is 4.8% however the rate in New Jersey is 7.2%, reflective of how hard the Garden State has been hit by the pandemic compared to other parts of the nation. We also live in an area of the country that has one of the highest costs of living. 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. In fact, over 50% of jobs in NJ pay less than $20/hour.

There are, of course, other “fast growing” jobs with higher annual wages, however, many require specific training, licensing, or degrees. 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 or eprezant@JewishFamilySvc.org.

5th Annual Soup for the Soul Community Event

SOUPER BOWL OF CARING — Sunday, November 14, 2021

By Leora Isaacs, PhD

JFS invites all community members to become SOUPer HEROES by joining the fight against food insecurity and social isolation in our community. The financial and social challenges that have been heightened by the pandemic make this annual program more vital than ever.

Feeding America (the nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies) projects that 42 million people (1 in 8), including 13 million children (1 in 6), will experience food insecurity in 2021.

The 5th Annual Soup for the Soul Community On-Line Event on Sunday, November 14, 2021, at 6 PM will feature a cook-along with Souper Star Chefs Shelley Wiseman and Barbara Drew, who will demonstrate recipes that can be prepared in advance and frozen for the holidays.

Shelley Wiseman worked at Gourmet Magazine, where she was the magazine's Travel Food Editor and a recipe developer for 12 years. Shelley is the author of two cookbooks, her latest is Just Tacos. Shelley has cooked and taught cooking all over the world, including at her own cooking school in Mexico City where she taught French Cuisine for 6 years. After a stint running the kitchens at Fine Cooking Magazine, Shelley is back doing what she truly loves- teaching and collaborating with others about great food. She will be launching Shelley’s Table at the end of the year which will offer International Cooking Classes and Culinary Adventures. Shelley can be reached at Shelleystable@gmail.com and her website is shelleystable.com.

Barbara Drew has had a passion for cooking since she was a little girl. She is mainly self-taught but has attended classes at several New York cooking schools. Barbara has owned three catering businesses over the years and was a co-owner of A Novel Cafe in East Brunswick. Barbara loves traveling and has worked in the hospitality industry for over 30 years planning corporate meetings and events.

Each participant will receive the recipes, ingredient lists and details about what to have ready prior to the event, and are welcome to cook-along at home, or just sit back and enjoy the ZOOM experience. Soup for the Soul registrants will also be able to taste three of the chefs’ delicious soups that can be picked up at Temple Sholom in Bridgewater on the day of the event. Register for the event here. $36/person.

And that’s not all! Soup for the Soul nourishes our local community in a variety of ways. An Online Auction in conjunction with the program will raise money for programs and services that provide assistance to all community members in need, regardless of religion or financial status. Some of the many valuable auction items include golf outings, gift cards to restaurants, luxury merchandise, and a Wyndham Resort vacation certificate. Be sure to check out the offerings here. And there will also be a Grand Prize Raffle for a private wine tasting for 10 (valued at $1,200) at the winner’s home (In Somerset or Hunterdon County). A selection of 6 wines will be offered by Skurnik Wines & Spirits in conjunction with Tewksbury Fine Wine & Spirits along with appetizers specially selected to pair with the evening’s wines will be served by BEX Caterers. Raffle tickets at $25 per ticket are available here. Winners do not need to be present at the event to win.

2021 - Another School Year of Change

By Jen Walters, LCSW

2021 has been a year marked by change and adaptation, especially for school aged children and teens, and this September and October will be no different. Schools are instituting plans for in-person learning and many children, without having that exposure for many months, will be adjusting and adapting again.

With all of these changes, anxiety for children has increased, as well as prevalence of other mental health challenges such as depression and suicide in youth. Children, however, are overall resilient, and the signs of their adjustments and stress can be easily overlooked or considered to be signs of medical or behavioral issues.

As we enter another school year, it's important to become versed in these signs and symptoms, discuss strategies to help children process and review when and how to seek professional help. Signs of anxiety in children can include stomachaches, headaches, heart pounding, restlessness, worries, resisting and refusing to do things, fears, disruption of sleep or appetite, and lack of focus. Sometimes children appear not to hear adults, as they become engrossed in their thoughts, fears and worries or they isolate from activities and people they previously enjoyed.

Children need time with trusted adults to process their feelings and benefit most when adults validate how they feel. Once a child hears something like “I can understand why you would feel that way”, then they are more likely to allow us to help them to challenge thoughts that may be out of proportion or irrational. Too often, adults fast forward to challenging the young person thoughts or ideas, and children feel unheard or misunderstood. The best times to process are when there is not a lot of other stimulation, or after a distressing time has passed. For example, it is recommended, especially with older children, to take a late evening drive to the ice cream shop or other low stress errands and discuss feelings or emotions in the car hours after the stressful day, rather than during dinner or other times when stress levels at home can be highest. Some families utilize texting to discuss feelings, since face to face discussions can lead to increased stress, rather than understanding. I know parents of young children who enjoy drawing their day to begin a discussion about feelings and stress. Carving out even 10 minutes can make a difference in a child's ability to feel supported, heard and understood.

Finally, it is important to understand that seeking mental health support is often the best way to prevent a mental health crisis in the future. Therapists are now assisting clients through many means including text, telehealth, in-home and in-office visits. Signs that your child may need additional support include more than 2 weeks of any of the symptoms mentioned earlier and /or a lack of ability to complete daily activities such a showering or attending to schoolwork. Finally, if your child voices thoughts of hurting themselves or another person, reach out for assistance from local psychiatric screening immediately. Local PESS agencies are trained to help you find the next steps for you and your family. Educate your children about the 741741 crisis text line, which they can contact 24 hours a day and text with a trained crisis counselor.

People Need People

By Ruth Edelman, MSW

What ingredients create meaningful life experiences? For some, it is the expression of caring for another, for a “neighbor in need.” JFS of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties has found the recipe and celebrates the outcome. Referrals from professionals as well as family members, friends, identify someone with a need that JFS can address. A social worker follows up to understand how the family or senior view their needs, and what resources might help them with their challenges. While for some the answer might be a clinically trained professional providing therapeutic interventions, or an experienced case manager who can intervene to address emergency as well as evolving needs, many times, the answer is what a volunteer can give.

As we have all become more isolated during this pandemic, the need increases for isolated seniors in our Senior Friendly Visitor and Senior Grocery Shopper Programs to know that there is someone who not only cares, but calls, drops off groceries, sends a birthday greeting, makes an afghan, plants a flower, listens…. the list goes on. One volunteer has been helping by scheduling vaccines for those who don’t know how to use on- line technology. One senior, celebrating his 100th birthday, said about his friendly visitor, “Joe Fass is my best brother. He’s there to talk about everything—sports, the weather, family.” Families in our Family Mentor Program have been helped with tutoring kids getting virtual schooling, helping parents think through how they can juggle work and parenting, how they advocate for their child with academic, emotional or physical challenges. Our Senior Grocery Shopper, matches low income seniors referred by the Somerset County Office on Aging, for practical assistance with planning a shopping list, purchasing and delivering groceries (paid for by the senior). “She has been a godsend, a true angel,” commented one senior recipient.

A crucial ingredient to success are the volunteers. They are people of all ages and backgrounds who are willing to give, not only their time, but of themselves. It’s not so much about what they DO, its about what they bring through a relationship that communicates “I care about you.” That is so often missing from the lives of those whom we serve. And, like the leavening in a cake, without it, there is no “lift.” Remarked one of our new volunteers “I was drawn to JFS because their activities are rooted within the local community and thus have a direct impact on our neighbors.”

And then, there is the format. This is what JFS provides through structured programs that train and support volunteers in their work, make assessments and determinations of the “fit” between a volunteer and their interests, geographic area, and a client’s background and needs. It’s what makes a difference.

We recently celebrated volunteers who have been with us for 10, 8, 5, and 3 or more years, as well as all who joined during a pandemic. With nearly 100 unique volunteers a year providing service, we continue to add new volunteers and hope that you will want to be part of the recipe for meaningful service to the community. As the song goes “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” For more information about JFS and volunteer opportunities contact us at 908-725-7799 or admin@jewishfamilysvc.org.

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.


  • 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.”