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Jewish Family Services: 100 Years of Helping

JFS, which continues to adapt to meet the needs of Greater Hartford residents, celebrates the organization's 100th anniversary with a gala this Sunday.

Submitted by Michelle Souza

When he was laid off from his job, Jim Palma became hyper-focused on looking for work, searching for leads online and polishing his resume. But when he started going to Schmoozers Networking meetings, he discovered something he had known yet forgotten – how important it is to network face-to-face.

It’s not as if the Jewish Employment Transition Services (JETS) had all the answers and could get him a job immediately. But “they reminded me of what I had heard long ago and how it applies today,” says Palma, of West Hartford.

Looking for work “is very discouraging, and you don’t want to get out of the house because you feel like you’ve got to spend more time on the computer,” says Palma, who is working as a consultant and is in negotiations for a job. He says he has appreciated the upbeat, collegial environment where everyone is made to feel welcome, whether they’ve been out of work for two weeks or two years.

Schmoozers, he says, forces you to spend three hours twice a month talking with other people, helping them, learning from them and sharing encouragement.

It is just one of many services provided by , which is based in West Hartford but serves people from throughout Hartford County.

The nonsectarian, nonprofit human services agency celebrates its 100th anniversary this Sunday with a “Sparkling Evening” gala. The community event includes music, dinner, dessert and a tribute program honoring four families, with WNPR Radio Host and Courant columnist Colin McEnroe as emcee.

As with many faith-based organizations, Jewish Family Services helps people of all ages and backgrounds to navigate life’s challenges.

“From the moment I walked in, it was completely obvious to me that it was a community based organization,” says Palma. Free and volunteer-led, JETS offers help with resumes, interviews, negotiating, networking and more.

In 2011, JFS served 4,244 families, up 52.7 percent over the 2,778 families served just three years earlier in 2008.

Historically, Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford has responded to whatever need arose. For example, the agency aided influenza victims, oversaw adoptions, supported Holocaust survivors and collected furniture for and provided support to refugees. It has offered counseling to couples going through a divorce and workshops for single parents, held workshops on teen depression and suicide and run a day camp for Hartford youth.

Most recently, the agency has responded to the great recession by opening a kosher food pantry, complete with vegetables grown by volunteers, the JETS program, a Money Coach, and individual and family counseling.  

As people age and live longer, JFS has expanded the variety and depth of programs offered to older adults, including Care at Home, which provides caregivers to help seniors live independently at home; counseling, support and therapy to help older adults; and Geriatric Care Management to help guide adult children in caring for an aging parent.

Over its 100 years of service, Jewish Family Services remained true to its mission, says Anne Danaher, executive director. In 1912, 30 different charities met and agreed to merge into United Jewish Charities. It evolved and changed its name over the years and eventually became known as Jewish Family Services. 

Whatever the name, Danaher says, the human services agency “is committed to serving clients who are in need, whether the need is emotional, spiritual, functional, material or financial.”

A Sparkling Evening, a celebration of JFS’s 100 years serving adults, children and families throughout Greater Hartford, will be Sunday, June 10 from 5 to 9 p.m. at , 2626 Albany Ave., West Hartford. For reservations or information, please contact Patti Weiner, 860-236-1927, ext. 27 or Sherry Waitsman, ext.26.

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