February 9, 2024

Dear JFCS Family,

“Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken.” This week, I had the pleasure of meeting with two of our Aging with Pride members, Michael* and David*. Aging with Pride is a monthly JFCS program for older adults in the LGBTQ+ community. We are proud to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment and a place where sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression can intersect to be embraced, affirmed, and celebrated.

Six years ago, this program was born out of necessity as many of our LGBTQ+ older adults were isolated, alone and looking for community. Each month, Reva Farenback-Brateman, Geriatric Case Manager and Community Educator, brings wonderful educational programs for our LGBTQ+ older adults. Moreover, we bring together a group of clients who have clearly become family.

While we started with a small number of clients, this program has grown to over 60 people monthly. Several months ago, Weinberg Commons asked Michael and David, to share their experiences as gay men at one of their senior programs. They presented together and found it to be an amazing opportunity to educate and engage other seniors in a safe and open way. That evening, they shared their experience of what it was like to be a gay man and together they shared what it was like to be a married gay couple. As they laughed together with those in attendance, they knew that they were creating allies and providing a vital resource. Each of them had quite a different story and the residents were eager and excited to learn from them. As they opened it up for Q&A, they fielded many questions from the Weinberg residents. They were able to debunk misconceptions while offering clarification and guidance. What was most interesting is that many of the residents wanted advice on how to be inclusive and accepting of their children, grandchildren, and nieces or nephews.

This amazing program sparked a new idea that is taking form today: an Aging with Pride Speakers Bureau. This was not the only request for speakers. At times, we have had requests from schools and senior programs to talk about issues regarding the LGBTQ+ community. Often our JFCS staff will speak at these venues; however, there is nothing stronger than having volunteers and clients share their own personal experiences. It was an important moment for David and Michael: they felt empowered to help change the world and shape other people’s behavior in a positive and dynamic way.

So, in the months ahead, we will be working with Michael, David, and others to create a presentation, recruit several more volunteers, and build a new program where our clients can go into the community. They are excited to educate and empower others to create safe spaces, engagement, and education. They will actualize the mission and vision of JFCS by building bridges, engaging allies, and educating the wider world.

Michael and David will not only help themselves in this process, but their work and advocacy will help hundreds of other people. They truly are an inspiration, and I am so grateful to call them family! Maybe one day you will see them speak. Hopefully, one day they won’t need to.

Wishing you peace and love on this Shabbat and always,

Raechel Hammer


* Names changed to protect confidentiality