Tikvah/AJMI, also known as Advocates for the Jewish Mentally Ill, serves members of the community struggling with mental health issues.
Established 15 years ago by founding President Judy Zon and a group of likeminded parents of five young adults, committed to raising awareness about mental illness, Tikvah has grown to nearly 250 members.
A beneficiary organization of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Social Responsibility, Tikvah's outreach encompasses a work program, supportive services in a home environment and socialization.
According to David Rosenberg, director of the Center for Social Responsibility, "One of the center priorities is to provide safety net services and self-sufficiency initiatives. People with mental illness can be a vulnerable population and with a program like Tikvah, the benefits have been significant."
In Hebrew, Tikvah means hope, which is precisely what the grass-roots organization provides. Zon explained its origins. As a parent of a young adult son coping with the onset of mental health issues, Zon discovered there were no appropriate services in the Jewish community to meet his needs nor those of a similar population.
"I was very frustrated," recalled Zon, adding that there are some 6,000 people in the Philadelphia region living with mental health issues. "The mission for our organization remains the same as when we started — to improve the quality of life for our members and strive for their independence."
Susan Haiman, program director since 1998, has seen firsthand how socialization initiatives have led to healthier individuals. "We enable people to be a part of the bigger world by removing many of the stresses," explained Haiman, an occupational therapist and assistant professor of occupational therapy at Philadelphia University.
One example is by providing transportation to activities like the movies, bowling, dinners, trips to the National Museum of American Jewish History and holiday parties such as the upcoming Chanukah celebration. "We provide a social outlet and a safe cluster of people to interact with," said Haiman. "Many members have developed more social competence and confidence and have branched off to establish their own social network."
Tikvah maintains a home in Drexel Hill where eight of its members live independently. Supportive services are in place to ensure residents are in a safe, sanitary environment free from fire hazards. Tikvah's work program has also proven fruitful, with some members finding steady employment, others securing meaningful volunteer positions.
Though progress has been steady, yet slow, board members (parents, community members and recipients of services) realize that while membership initially was comprised of younger adults — that population is aging, raising new challenges.
To meet increasing challenges, two donors recently funded the hiring of a part-time executive director, Helene Steinberg, whose focus is administrative management and fund-raising/community relations. "We want to ensure that Tikvah will be able to serve our members into the future," said Steinberg. "We also strive to raise awareness that these services exist for young adults dealing with mental health issues."
Beulah Saideman, a Tikvah board member since its inception, currently serves as treasurer and newsletter editor. "The issue of mental illness needed to be on the Jewish agenda," stated Saideman, who in those early years was grappling with her son's diagnosis of bipolar disorder. With successful Lithium treatment, Saideman reports that her son, now 41, is "doing really well and living a perfectly normal life."
"I stayed involved because I have seen the difference the group has made for so many," said Saideman. "Some members come to the programs in a solitary state with no social skills; some are disheveled. Through friendships that have developed, members look better, dress better and have become better leaders. I am convinced that the socialization program is extremely effective. It's remarkable."
For more information, call Helene Steinberg at 215-832-0671.