A holistic approach to serving the whole person

May 17, 2023

They often say, “it takes a village to raise children” and I frequently wonder why the importance of our village is only referenced for our younger community. The truth is, regardless of our age or life stage, our needs don’t drastically change.

The concept of basic needs brings us back to our early days in science class, when we learned about Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow taught that people’s basic needs must be met first including food, water, clothing, shelter, and sleep. Right beyond the basic needs are our need to feel loved, accepted, and supported within our community. This feeds directly into our mental health, which supports our physical needs. The concept of mind, body, and spirit is a philosophy that is heralded by doctors, therapists, and coaches worldwide.

The health and wellness of individuals and society are often discussed in the context of disease or physical conditions. However, the World Health Organization has long held that “Heath is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” JFCS services are built upon the concept that our most basic physical and mental health needs are inextricably linked. We strive for holistic care.

When meeting with clients, we utilize a holistic approach and evaluate their circumstances through the lens of social determinants for health including economic stability, access to education, neighborhood and the built environment, social context and community, and access to quality health care. JFCS case managers and professionals will provide direct support when available, while also partnering with a strong network of organizations that provide additional support from the community. The needs of our clients are often complex, and one agency alone cannot provide all the solutions.

Over the last six months, I have watched our clinicians and case managers work together to provide holistic care. Rhonda is a client who not only receives mental health counseling for depression and self-esteem issues, but also struggles with financial stability. She comes to the Betsy and Peter Fischer Food Pantry monthly, where she receives food packages and financial assistance, all while working with our staff to find a higher level of employment. Our Rhona Fischer Family Assistance Program offers nutrition classes in partnership with the South Jersey Food Bank, where clients can learn about healthy eating habits, and our support groups offer yet another level of care. This not only provides education, but also a sense of community and connection.

“JFCS stands by my side, and I am grateful for all their services. The monthly food deliveries, the financial assistance, and the gift cards were so greatly appreciated, and my therapist has truly helped me. They offer a different way of looking at things and they listen to my issues. They are knowledgeable and never judge. They have been so supportive and caring, since coming to therapy, I have had less panic attacks and am doing so much better.” one client remarked.

We know that issues of poverty and mental health are complex, and the solutions are not easily obtained. However, our most vulnerable community members are counting on us to help them find the solutions to these issues. So, one may ask, “What can I do?”

While social service and government systems work on long-term solutions to decreasing poverty and improving mental health, we must still meet people’s immediate needs. In February 2023, the temporary boost to SNAP benefits put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic ended and many of our community members were deeply affected. Since then, we have seen a drastic rise in food pantry usage. We need your help now more than ever. Help us fill our shelves by working with your friends and neighbors to run a food drive, consider purchasing an extra bag of groceries or toiletries the next time you are at the market, reach out to our pantry staff to see what volunteer opportunities exist, or volunteer to serve on a committee and help us find systemic solutions. We are so grateful to all our corporate and individual partners who help us serve more than 1,600 people annually, and we can’t do it alone. To find out how you can help, contact Deena Neuwirth at 856-424-1333 or via email dneuwirth@jfedsnj.org.

The other action each of us can take is to recognize the importance of mental health in our community and contribute to changing the support systems around us. One in every five people struggle with mental health issues each year, but less than half receive treatment or support. Our community is facing a mental health crisis and we all need to contribute to finding a solution. One action you can take is to reduce the negative stigma associated with having a mental illness and getting help.

When you see someone struggling, be supportive – be there for them and show up. You don’t need to have answers, sometimes it is enough just to be there and listen. Most of all, remind them that they are not alone and encourage them to get help. They can lean on their community, their friends and most of all they can lean on us. Should you know someone struggling, JFCS can be there for them.

Asking for help is the first step to finding a solution. Most people don’t ask for help because they are ashamed and fearful of being judged. However, none of us can navigate life’s challenges alone. We need our community and our social safety net. Let JFCS be part of your safety net.

Whether you join our community of volunteers or need help yourself, we hope that you’ll reach out. For more information on mental health counseling and support groups, contact 856-424-1333 or visit our website at https://jfcssnj.org/counseling/.