August 4, 2023

When the System Works

Yesterday, JFCS received a beautiful thank you card from a recent client. It was just four months ago that I first spoke to Sarah, after she walked into the JCC asking for support. It was Mother’s Day, and I was on my way to visit my mom when I received a call from a community member to let me know that a homeless woman was at the Katz JCC in search of help. I immediately connected with the JCC and learned that they had given Sarah something to eat. A staff member sat with Sarah as I talked to her about potential resources and support. I was so grateful for the care, concern, and compassion the JCC showed Sarah. 

Sarah told me that she had raised her son here in Cherry Hill. He went to the JCC preschool, and she was a former member of a local synagogue. She lost her job and was struggling with severe mental health issues when she lost her Cherry Hill home. Slowly but surely, things went down a darker path: she couldn’t recover, she lost her home. She was living her car and had just a few personal belongings left. She had been in and out of crisis treatment centers and felt embarrassed and ashamed. Desperate and not knowing where else to turn, Sarah came to our community and asked for help. 

Over the course of several months, our staff and case managers have gotten to know Sarah well. She had been in and out of mental institutions. Most recently, she lost access to her bank account and her phone and ID were stolen. She needed to find a place to live and build a stable foundation so that she could receive the mental health care she so badly needed. We gave Sarah food, a temporary phone, and supermarket gift cards. We connected her with a litany of resources offered by our partner agencies. While JFCS is not a crisis center, of course, we can be there for people going through a crisis.

It is important to remember that no one is immune from poverty, mental health issues, or hunger. These issues have no boundaries, and they don’t discriminate. Yet, the shame and embarrassment are crippling and often stand in the way of someone asking for help.

Here at JFCS, we serve everyone regardless of their background or religion – without judgement and with dignity and respect. True to our Jewish values, we exist to Repair the World and make our community a better place. But it takes a village. Much like the billions of drops of water that make up the ocean, we don’t operate in a silo, and we can’t do our work alone. 

I was thrilled to hear that Sarah is doing well and that our interventions were helpful. She is now stable and in an apartment. She has regular access to her income, a phone and food. She receives support from our pantry, as needed and we will always be there for her. However, our work doesn’t stop there. Now, we can begin the work of mental health intervention – battling the trauma and helping Sarah develop the coping mechanisms she needs to rebuild a strong and healthy life. Just think…alone each one of us can make a difference, but together we can change the world. 

I leave you with the card she gave to us this week. It was the best Shabbat present I could ask for. Wishing you all peace and love this Shabbat.

All my best,