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A Lifeline of Hope in Times of Real Crisis

December 1, 2005 By:
Lauren Pound Somers, JE Feature
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It can be hard for a 37-year-old single mother raising three children to make ends meet on a limited income. And then if you have to endure an unpaid, six-week medical leave to undergo surgery, well, just imagine how difficult it can be to hold a family together.

But thanks to the Jewish Crisis Line - a program managed by Jewish Family and Children's Service of Philadelphia, and funded in large part by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia - such a person can receive a one-month grant to cover the mortgage so that a recuperating mother can manage until she goes back to work.

"The Jewish Crisis Line helps people in times of dire need," states Joanne Lippert, JFCS' Manager of Critical Needs. "We provide grants to help people avoid eviction, foreclosure or utility shut-off, and take care of urgent medical concerns."

Countless others who share similar plights have been helped by the Jewish Crisis Line. An 85-year-old, isolated Jewish woman has received emergency grants and volunteer companionship to combat her feelings of loneliness and depression.

"We have always made it a priority to serve the most vulnerable members of our community," says David Rosenberg, director of Federation's Center for Social Responsibility. "The Jewish Crisis Line addresses our communal obligation to help people in times of crisis, as well as the chronic poor."

Of the $389,000 JFCS disbursed last year through the Jewish Crisis Line, about $233,000 came from Federation's Policy, Strategy and Funding Committee, its Center for Social Responsibility and its Endowments Corporation. The program also received $30,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the remainder raised from foundations and private donors.

Lippert says agency staffers recognize that some people living on a fixed income are chronically needy and can't make significant changes in their lives: "For them, we look at budgeting and resources, and provide guidance and support to make their lives more manageable. We also help them access every public entitlement available."

While JFCS continues to provide such assistance, it has recently stepped up efforts to emphasize self-sufficiency. For instance, JFCS helped a man in his 50s who lost his marriage, job and home in quick succession to secure new employment and locate an affordable apartment. He also received intensive case management; today, his life is stabilized, and he is self-reliant.

One way JFCS is making that goal of self-sufficiency possible for more people is through "Helping Hands," a Federation-funded program for unemployed and underemployed people under 65. It was launched last September in collaboration with Federation Early Learning Services, Jewish Employment and Vocational Service, HIAS and Council Migration Service, and the Jewish Community Centers. The program's integrated intake and assessment systems empower clients to reduce their dependence on public entitlements and community assistance.

Rosenberg hails programs like these, and says social workers are also using technology to help clients obtain crucial public benefits and tax incentives through such tools as the Benefit Bank, an Internet-based program that enables users to learn what benefits they're eligible to receive and how to apply for them online.

Bringing sustenance, help and empowerment to vulnerable and disadvantaged people is the primary focus for Federation's Center for Social Responsibility, which works with community organizations to plan and implement programs that address the needs of the Jewish elderly, the impoverished, at-risk Jews and Jews facing insecurity.

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