How to Help From Home

Volunteers are the backbone of the agency – supporting fundraising events, delivering Kosher Meals-on-Wheels, making phone calls and friendly visits, and so much more. JFS volunteers come from all backgrounds, neighborhoods and ages, but they have one thing in common – a strong commitment to giving back. Our volunteers, and so many new friends across our community, have asked how they can support JFS during these unprecedented times. We’ve put together some great ways to give back, all while keeping yourself and the public safe.

Craft Kits for Children

Hundreds of children use the JFS Food Pantry or other services, and continue to do so during this current health crisis. We’re asking for your help to keep them engaged and entertained while home from school by creating fun craft kits. Whether it’s a butterfly made from an elusive toilet paper roll or a construction paper flower bouquet, we want to see your creative side! Check out sites like Pinterest for great ideas.

Cards and Caring

Nearly 200 seniors rely on JFS for socialization and support. With self-quarantine measures in effect, those seniors are now confined to their homes and apartments. You can help make their days brighter so that social distancing doesn’t have to mean complete isolation from the outside world. Help our seniors stay connected by writing letters, making cards, sending pictures or sharing stories. We’ll make sure they get to an appreciative homebound senior.

Feeding our Neighbors

As discussed in more detail in my previous blog post, JFS is doing everything it can to ensure seniors and families have access to food during these difficult times. You can help keep our Food Pantry well stocked by supporting our collection efforts. JFS has collection bins at the Pleasantville Police Station, Ventnor City Hall and Linwood City Hall. Volunteers are needed to retrieve items from those collection sites and deliver them to our office in Margate.

Spread the Word

Once of the easiest ways to help is by sharing our work on social media. As this crisis evolves, JFS will be communicating important updates on: JFS services and supports, volunteer opportunities, critical community needs and fundraising news. Be sure to follow us on social media @jfsatlantic on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn so you don’t miss out.

Get Collecting

Mobilize your friends and neighbors by starting a food drive or by collecting diapers, baby wipes, children’s craft supplies, unused games and puzzles. This is a great way to start your spring cleaning while also helping others. Please remember to always practice recommended state and health guidelines by staying at least six feet apart and leaving items on porches.

For more information about any of the above opportunities, please contact Vanessa Smith at 609-822-1108 x 249 or vsmith@jfsatlantic.org. Thank you all for being so supportive of our efforts and for displaying the power of Strength in Community!

Laura Rodgers, JFS Chief Program Officer

Feeding our Neighbors

Children who rely on school lunches, seniors afraid to leave their homes and families faced with lost wages. Even when not facing a global health crisis, all are examples of people who rely on JFS to address food insecurities. As the urgency to flatten the curve grows, so too do our requests for assistance. Recognizing the surge ahead, JFS has taken steps to reinforce the way our community is fed.

Food Pantry Expands

JFS quickly mobilized staff to create three “super groups” to support the growing needs of our neighbors. Our Food Pantry efforts, led by Volunteer Services Supervisor Vanessa Smith, have been nothing short of extraordinary. Vanessa and staff, from all verticals, transformed the JFS boardroom into a supersized Food Pantry, organized food collection locations throughout the county and secured additional orders through our partnership with the Community Food Bank.

While our staff has done a tremendous job, JFS is going to need your help to keep our shelves stocked. Non-perishables, such as canned tuna, cereal, peanut butter & jelly, pasta and hearty soups, can be dropped off at our office in Margate or at one of our collection sites – Pleasantville Police Station, Ventnor City Hall and Linwood City Hall. For those in Atlantic County who may be in need of food, the JFS Food Pantry is open Monday through Friday, 10 am to 2 pm (walk-ins are welcome).

Kosher Meals-On-Wheels

Mary Galvin DeMarco, RSVP Coordinator, and Mary Yost, Outpatient Therapist – Specialty Center, have taken lead on our Kosher Meals-On-Wheels (KMOW) program through JFS’ Village by the Shore. Our dynamic Marys are making sure all homebound seniors requesting meals through KMOW are getting their needs met. As the state continues to shelter in place, meal deliveries have become a critical lifeline to the seniors and Holocaust Survivors served through this program. In addition to the regular meal offerings, both Marys have been working hard to accommodate requests for Passover meals with the holidays right around the corner. We are so grateful to our “Mighty Marys” and the network of staff who ensure this vital program continues uninterrupted.

Seniors Shopping from Home Soars

JFS’ Village by the Shore provides so many important services to it’s members; including hands-on workshops (like flower arranging or painting), lunch around town, spring and holiday socials, trash valet, volunteering opportunities, transportation and more. With many of those programs currently on hold, none has become more important than the Village’s Shop From Home assistance. Led by Kirby Reed, Communications and Donor Relations Specialist; Kaitlin Lore, Vocational Services Case Manager; and Jenna Catanzarite, CSS, LSW Clinician – this team of helpers from across all sectors of JFS – is mobilizing staff and volunteers to assist Village members with placing grocery store orders online and coordinating deliveries. As vulnerable seniors and immunocompromised populations are advised to stay home, this service has been crucial in maintaining the safety and security of our Village members.

As I wrap up, I’d like to share with you a message we received from one of our Village members last week, as told to Tina Serota, Membership Director of Village by the Shore.

“Every one of you at JFS has brightened my life. I have never known such peace. I feel like I have a family at JFS and that for the first time in my life, I matter.”

Millie*, Atlantic City

You can help us help more people like Millie. Collect non-perishables and drop them off at any one of our collection sites or make a monetary donation at jfsatlantic.org.

With Gratitude,

Laura Rodgers, JFS Chief Program Officer

In Times of Crisis, JFS Will be There

As communities around the world deal with the evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, JFS is committed to providing the critical resources that so many have come to rely on. Over the last several weeks, we have seen that need grow. Requests for food, homeless supports, senior services and counseling are on the rise. For more than 100 years, JFS has been there to help the community. From the “Too Big To Fail” Financial Crisis of 2008 to Superstorm Sandy, JFS continues to support the health and well-being of children, seniors and families across Atlantic and Cape May Counties. Even now, as we face so many uncertainties, know that JFS will be there.

Feeding the Community

With schools closed, employee wages reduced or eliminated, and shelves short on essentials, access to food has become a critical need. The JFS Food Pantry, located at 607 N. Jerome Avenue in Margate, is open Monday through Friday, 10 am to 2 pm for Atlantic County residents. Walk-in requests are welcome.

Helping the Homeless

Social distancing and sheltering in place can be difficult when you have no place to go. Some of our county’s most vulnerable people are living on the streets or are at risk of homelessness. The Atlantic Homeless Alliance and the Project for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program continue to ensure people are secure, safe and healthy.

Older Adult & Senior Services

JFS’ Village by the Shore, a connected community for aging independently, supports nearly 200 seniors on a daily basis. While some services and event programming are on hold, staff continue to support Village members through care coordination, Kosher Meals-on-Wheels, grocery assistance, necessary transportation and phone check-ins. For more information about Village by the Shore, contact Tina Serota at (609) 822-1109 or villagejfs@jfsatlantic.org.

Mental Health Services

Maintaining your mental health can be just as important as providing for your physical well-being, especially during traumatic events such as those we are facing now. JFS continues to provide mental health services, both remotely and through our outreach teams. Case managers and therapists continue to provide critical services to individuals in our Integrated Case Management Services (ICMS), FAST, Counseling, Links to Health and Supportive Housing programs.

For more information about any of our programs and services, please call the JFS Access Center at (609) 822-1108, Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. As this crisis continues to evolve, I hope you will join me in showing humanity and compassion as we lift up and support one another. At JFS, we believe there is Strength in Community, and by working together we can make our community stronger and more vibrant for years to come.

Be well.

Laura Rodgers, JFS Chief Program Officer

Hoops, Houses, Hope: How JFS Special Events define Strength in Community

On occasion, this blog will feature contributions from JFS staff. This guest post is by Kirby Reed, JFS Communications and Donor Relations Specialist.

Spend enough time at JFS and you’ll often hear staff and volunteers refer to strength in community. This very blog bears its name and you’ll find the phrase peppered throughout our brochures, flyers and even on most of our business cards. But what do those three words mean to JFS? What do they mean to me?

Strength in community can take many forms and I see it every day across the agency. A neighbor who drops off a bag of groceries to help keep our Food Pantry stocked. The second generation Holocaust Survivor who volunteers his time, stuffing envelopes or making phone calls. The local philanthropist who sees the value in our services and delivers a check for $25,000. Each gesture, big and small, demonstrates the power of community.

The way my team and I work to harness that goodwill is through our portfolio of distinguished events. My job is to ensure that each signature fundraiser is a success so that our hardworking case workers, therapists and support staff have the added resources they need to continue their important, and often life-saving, work.

The JFS event season is now underway and officially kicks off March 28th with the 13th Annual Cocktail Party. This year’s event, held at The Wave at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino, will take place during the height of March Madness – think brackets, raffle baskets, big screen hoops action, and signature cocktails.

Cocktail Party offers a fun night out for friends and couples, but more than that, it provides a lifeline to children and families who need critical support. Every ticket sold, every sponsorship secured and every raffle ticket purchased directly helps those who need it the most.

Strength in community also means collaboration. Following Cocktail Party, we join forces with the JCC of Atlantic County to host the annual JFS vs. JCC Golf Tournament on May 28th at Harbor Pines Golf Club. By combining resources, both agencies bring together staff, volunteers and business leaders who are committed to supporting children, seniors and families and their access to wellness programs.  

Once the golf clubs are put away, our most anticipated event begins to take shape. The 33rd Annual JFS House Tour, to be held August 3rd across Longport, Margate and Ventnor, supports the agency’s older adult services, Village by the Shore. And boy does it take a village to pull off! Homeowners across the Downbeach area graciously open their doors to over 1,000 visitors while more than 100 staff and volunteers work together to ensure a memorable experience. With the added support of area businesses, through sponsorship and ad purchases, the JFS House Tour has raised over $1 million since 1987. All this is possible when a community comes together!

We close out the JFS event season with the Village by the Shore Card Party on August 27th and the Farm to Table Dinner at Steve & Cookie’s on October 20th. The Card Party combines a love of games – including canasta, mahjong and bridge – with a passion to support the great services offered by the Village, including specialized programming, like gardening workshops and memoir writing classes; transportation to doctor’s appointments; and access to hot meals through Kosher Meals-on-Wheels. The Farm to Table Dinner (formerly Herb Dinner), combines the talent and expertise of area chefs, herbalists and nutritionists, who create an incredible array of dishes with many ingredients harvested right here in Atlantic County.

Both events sell out every year and are a great example of leveraging your interests to support causes you believe in. Our card sharks and mahjong mavens enjoy Card Party while our foodies please their palates at the Farm to Table Dinner. And like all our previous events, they wouldn’t be possible without YOU and the support of our community.

I hope this post has inspired you to take action. A single donation, a few hours volunteering or even sharing an event on social media may not seem like a lot, but it is. Because generosity is contagious. One act of kindness is followed by another and soon that drop of water becomes an ocean. That is what we see every day at JFS. That is strength in community.

Want to learn more about JFS special events and volunteer opportunities? Give me a call at (609) 822-1108 x144 or email me at kreed@jfsatlantic.org. We are always looking for new business partners and volunteers to join our committees. See how your support can make a difference! – Kirby

Volunteering is a Team Sport

We fed over 500 families at Thanksgiving this year!

This is a great headline on its own, but the story behind the scenes – the teamwork it took to feed 500 families – is what has me impressed and still celebrating today.

This year our Volunteer Services Supervisor, Vanessa Smith, created a Turkey Drive committee made up of community and staff volunteers. This generous group of people quickly became a winning team.

They used their connections (family, friends, classmates and patrons) to fill bags of holiday food and to help raise much needed dollars. Through hard work and collaboration, this committed team surpassed their goals and had tons of fun doing it.

At JFS we find Strength in Community and this year our Thanksgiving Turkey Drive demonstrated the spirit of what happens when caring and committed people come together.

The pictures throughout tell the rest of the story.

Thanks for checking in and please let me know what you think of our work.

Connecting People and the JFS Can-Do Mindset

In October, JFS welcomed colleagues from the United Kingdom to observe a training workshop related to our Connecting People Project, an exciting initiative aimed at reducing social isolation and increasing one’s sense of well-being. The model is a co-produced process, between a service user and a practitioner, resulting in increases in social networks. 

Celebrating following a successful training!

The Connecting People model was created by colleagues at the University of York and JFS is the first group to bring it to the United States! This is possible through the support of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Global Solutions grant. You can read more about this in our Spring edition of JFS Currents found HERE.

This recent visit gave us an opportunity to showcase our incredible staff and how they are adapting the model for use in our community. The visit included presenting this training to Professor Martin Webber and Nicola Moran, Ph.D., the creators of the original model. Talk about pressure!

The project of adapting the Connecting People model in our community has three phases and will span approximately three years. Part of finishing phase one involved this second visit from Martin and Nicola, who traveled from the University of York to observe the JFS social workers deliver a training and to work with the entire project core team to plan for phase two.

And if delivering a training to the creators of Connecting People isn’t intimidating enough, we invited the executive and senior leadership of JFS to join us!

You might be wondering why we would we ever do this this to our social workers? The second phase of Connecting People involves a pilot study and we came to understand that we had to contain knowledge of the model in order to avoid contamination of the control group. With that in mind, we changed the training audience from JFS direct service staff to the executive and senior leadership. Ultimately, this change was successful because an ongoing feature of the model is that it is grounded in the support of the organization and requires its full support.

I’ve always thought of JFS, its staff, and service users, as a group of individuals that persevere for positive results. In the Connecting People model this is called the Can-Do mentality and this is why adapting this intervention is such a good fit for us. Our social workers, who had never delivered a training workshop before, embraced their training challenge with this Can-Do mindset and they succeeded!

After the training, staff spent time with our UK colleagues in the Margate office.

Martin and Nicola affirmed that JFS and the social workers have fully adapted the model during the phase one practice and that we are ready for phase two. Hooray! They could both see in the delivery of the training and in the cooperation of the participants that JFS gets it. Not only did our social workers deliver a solid training, they received constructive feedback to improve both the training itself and their presentation skills. Once again, they did this with an open Can-Do spirit that morphed into “What Can We Do Better?

The Connecting People Project in use at JFS is already helping people improve their networks and lives. Simply put, combatting social isolation saves lives. As JFS continues to work through the project’s phases, we look forward to bringing the model to other areas of the agency’s work, including to individuals with learning disabilities and to those experiencing homelessness.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Connecting People and what other agencies are doing to reduce social isolation. You can reach me at lrodgers@jfsatlantic.org.

– Laura Rodgers


We Are All Workers

Nina Stolzenberg, Ph.D., Director of Vocational Services at JFS

One of my favorite moments in the work day is when my colleague and office neighbor, Nina Stolzenberg, Ph.D. pops in to tell me that a client has found a new job or that they have secured a training opportunity.

I know that Nina is passionate about her work and I can listen forever to the stories of achievement as well as the small steps toward employment that she shares. Nina has helped us all at JFS see that everyone has the right to think of themselves as a worker, a person worthy of work and all that it brings to one’s life: income, feelings of competency and a connection to the world, and a sense of contributing to the community.

It is so inspiring to hear what work can bring to someone who overcomes barriers, such as a disability, stigma, fear, and a lack of opportunities. Nina is an expert barrier buster! She does not do this alone, but by diving deep directly with the people who are seeking jobs to individualize their path to success.

When listening to Nina, I wondered why she, a licensed clinical psychologist with years of expertise in child development and the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, is now focused on doing employment work?

I finally sat down to ask Nina about this curiosity with her career arc and I’m now even more inspired. It all started when Nina began running into families whom she had assisted with Autism diagnoses and treatment plans for successful school experiences. The parents and the children who were approaching adulthood thanked her for the help she had provided to them and began asking her about what comes next. What does it mean to be an adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder? Will they ever be able to live independently?

As these chance meeting were happening, JFS was exploring the development of a vocational department and Nina immediately saw an opportunity. Employment leads to independence, and adolescents and young adults with a disability want the same things as those without these labels.

Nina went on to implement this programming at JFS and she shared that, “there is nothing better than when someone calls to tell you that they got their first job and also when they call to report they have their first paycheck ever, they are stunned by their achievements.”  I asked why she has stuck with this rewarding but tough work (by the way, Nina’s work involves a lot of grant writing behind the scenes, too!). Nina went on to say that “the employment work we do dovetails so nicely with the other programming at JFS and it helps people integrate into the community and they function better with symptom management related to their disabilities.”

Nina shares with me some good news about a client who continues to thrive and be successful in the workplace. Always so great to hear!

The barrier busting is another reason Nina keeps doing the work.  She is driven to look at each situation individually and she takes the time to get clear information about the barrier. One example she cites is that of a person who reported losing hours at work and in response he was contemplating quitting the job. With time and exploration, Nina learned that there was a miscommunication and there wasn’t a loss of hours but a change in schedule to best match the worker to the times the job needed his skill set in the warehouse. Barrier busted and job kept! Nina also loves getting to go behind the scenes in various workplaces, she says it is fun to see how different operations work and this gives her additional information to bust barriers with clients so that they can obtain and retain employment.

Nina is encouraged by the current low unemployment rates in the state and she says that, “improved employment for everyone means improved employment for people with disabilities.” Helping people get to work is everyone’s business at JFS and Nina is leading the way for us to see that in our community, we are all workers!

Let me know what you think of Nina’s work and I have to ask you all, please send job leads! Nina is always scanning and developing opportunities and by sharing our contacts, we can all help her with this. Thanks for reading and keep an eye out for my next post dropping later this month!

~Laura Rodgers, JFS Chief Program Officer

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.

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