Why We Advocate…

I heard about Anna and her family from my colleagues. She had lost employment and was struggling to keep her apartment and car.  This was an extremely stressful time and Anna knew that without either income or a car, she and her children would struggle even more and be faced with homelessness.

This was a crisis. 

The reality is, Anna and her family are not alone. In Atlantic County it is difficult to find affordable housing and a car is often needed to find and keep employment.  Anna began receiving Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) at an amount that had not been increased in New Jersey for over 30 years.  Anna didn’t give up—she got organized and kept following through until she was able to get help for her rent with a benefit connected to TANF and then quickly found new employment and kept her car. With case management assistance through the JFS Access Center, Anna was supported both emotionally and with connections to resources through her intense experience of housing instability.

Anna’s journey, and those of so many others, drives the ongoing advocacy work at JFS and it also directly informed the feedback we were able to offer during the last state budget process where TANF grants were increased and $60 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund was won. This fund is dedicated to the creation of affordable homes across New Jersey.

For #NJLegDay, we spoke with Assemblyman John Armato and others asking to help keep all Affordable Housing Trust Fund money in the budget with no diversions.

In my role with JFS, I am constantly looking for ways to empower individuals and families while also working to change the systems and policies that create the conditions experienced by the most vulnerable in our community.  This mission and social work practice philosophy delivers results. The people we serve know that we seek to understand them and offer best practice interventions alongside advocacy that helps their particular situation and beyond.

At the Annual Congressional Reception in Washington, D.C. where speakers shared insights, policy perspectives and personal experiences related to the impact of homelessness.

JFS participates in and accomplishes this broader systems and policy work through participation in organizational campaigns led by the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, Housing & Community Development Network, Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, Supportive Housing Association, Monarch Housing, the New Jersey Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, and the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (I encourage you to check out the good work being done by these partners). We also seek to create opportunities for those most impacted to tell their own stories and to offer their own policy change solutions. 

Anna and her family may face another stressful time in their lives (as so many low wage workers experience episodic crises), but the increase in TANF will be very helpful to them, should they need it. Ultimately, full funding of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund will relieve the stress and uncertainty faced by families, like Anna’s, who have the majority of their monthly income designated for rent, and allow them to THRIVE.

THIS is why we advocate at JFS!

~Laura Rodgers, JFS Chief Program Officer

*Anna’s story is a composite created from several different JFS clients and used to protect the privacy of those we serve.

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A Home and a Purpose – JFS Housing First Program

It’s always a good day when I hear that someone is moving into a new home, having made the transition from homelessness. We smile and cheer because we know how much it means to them!

According to the National Coalition to End Homelessness, there is a large and growing evidence base demonstrating that Housing First is an effective solution to homelessness. Consumers in a Housing First model access housing faster and are more likely to remain stably-housed.

JFS adopted this best practice over 10 years ago and John is a perfect example of the success of JFS’ Housing First program.  Having lived on the streets for more than five years, John is one of 45 people JFS houses through a Department of Community Affairs grant the agency won to create a new Housing First program targeted at high utilizers of the Atlantic County jail and AtlantiCare’s emergency services.

Each year John was spending over half of his days at the county jail for trespassing and other disorderly persons charges.  Thanks to Housing First, John’s life has completed changed.  By having a home, a permanent home, he now has peace and a purpose. Since moving into his home over a year ago, John has not returned to jail.  He went from more than 150 days annually to ZERO days at the jail. He has piece of mind knowing he has a place to live. But John has also found meaning in his life – he volunteers to check on his neighbor and he’s pursuing a volunteer job at the local food pantry.

John’s results are similar to the others housed in this initiative.  After 12 months from moving in, none of the participants have returned to homelessness. All have greatly lowered their time spent incarcerated at the jail with 98% not returning at all.  All 45 participants have spent less time using emergency services at AtlantiCare lowering the expenses of the healthcare system.  

The ongoing supportive services provided by JFS are delivered in a kind and respectful manner with a focus on the whole person. We truly partner with the people we serve to help them live their best lives. Many with our support are seeking employment, have reconnected with family, and they are making new friends and starting new hobbies in their communities across Atlantic County.

Thank you for reading my first JFS program blog post. I would love to hear your thoughts on our Housing First program, or any other JFS initiatives. Comment below or contact me directly at lrodgers@jfsatlantic.org.

~Laura Rodgers, JFS Chief Program Officer


Welcome to JFS

Now that you know a little more about me, I wanted to share more about JFS, an agency that I love – as much as my three beloved dogs.

The newest addition to the Rodgers household!

JFS was founded in the early 1900’s as a place for the poor and elderly to turn for help.  Today, we are that and so much more.  From counseling a child who has just endured a trauma to housing a person who has survived on the streets for more than a decade, JFS is a place for anyone to turn during their time of need. 

The more than 8,000 individuals and families we serve annually plus the community at-large inspires me and all of us to create programs that help make lives better.

While JFS has dozens of programs and services, here are a few to offer a peek into what we do to strengthen the community. 

The Food Pantry is open Monday to Friday and on average 200 individuals receive nutritious food each month.  Anyone can walk into our Margate office and leave with food, just bring your Atlantic County ID.  We also accept food donations daily in the form of a bag of food or monetary support.

JFS provides the single point of entry for anyone homeless or at risk of homelessness in the County through the Atlantic Homeless Alliance.  Anyone in a situation of homelessness can visit our office, located inside the Atlantic County Office Building in Atlantic City and receive help. 

To engage adults 50+ in the community, Village by the Shore provides services and social activities.  From a monthly luncheon to care coordination support and transportation, the Village is a wonderful resource for adults and older adults. 

These great programs experience such wonderful results because of my fantastic colleagues and the work they do every day to change people’s lives. We do so much at JFS that it is often hard to keep everyone up to date with our mission driven services.  This blog will post monthly (at least) to keep you informed and to offer a new way for you to give us feedback. 

Check back next month for a post about our Housing First program which is ending homelessness while servicing, with dignity and respect, those who have lost so much. This work is helping people live their best lives in our community and we are in awe of the strength and hope they have for the future.   I look forward to hearing from all of you.

Laura Rodgers

The Journey Begins…

Thanks for joining me! As I enter my 25th year at Jewish Family Service of Atlantic & Cape May Counties (JFS), I am excited to share my expertise, the agency’s programs and also community collaborations with blog readers. Before we get started, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Laura Rodgers and I am the Chief Program Officer at JFS (and a rookie blogger!). When I’m not at the office or in the field, I love to read and take early morning walks with my dogs. 

Promoting the JFS Women’s Health Network at an event for Susan G. Komen of Central & South Jersey.

I started my social service career in 1995 as an outreach worker for those experiencing long term psychiatric hospitalization and homelessness. I wanted to make a difference and help people who are marginalized in our society. My mission was to assist people, improving their quality of life, and for them to know that they matter.  I also quickly learned that advocacy and changing systems must go hand-in-hand with direct service and clinical social work practice. I am proud to say, nearly three decades later, I am still doing this work and greatly enjoy the collaborations with the people we serve, the community we work in, and with colleagues across the state. That is what keeps me energized, excited and moving ahead each day. 

We rely so greatly on our partnerships, including the generous support from Bank of America Charitable Foundation, a JFS Visionary Donor.

While no longer in the field daily, I bring that grounding experience into my current responsibilities which include staff development, creating new programming and managing JFS programs such as counseling, homeless outreach and prevention, supportive housing, mental health outreach, and older adult services.  It is a great privilege to work at an empowering and inspiring agency with the responsibility to ensure positive client outcomes and program compliance using best practices. 

I hope you’ll continue to join me in this journey as I bring you updates from JFS where we see Strength in Community every day. 

Laura Rodgers