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Help Is Just a Phone Call Away

April 27, 2006 By:
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JIRS volunteer Lee Zaslow
For those who need to know about Jewish social services, synagogues, events and where to get kosher pizza in Greater Philadelphia, the Jewish Information and Referral Service has the answers - or will find them.

A part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Social Responsibility, the free, confidential service serves as the community's central resource for information.

"JIRS helps serve as a public face of Federation," said the center's director, David Rosenberg. "When people call, they get a real person who cares, will listen, research the answers and follow up. JIRS has built strong relationships with our partner agencies, and that helps ensure that people seeking social services will get the help they need."

Lillian Youman, who has been the director of JIRS for 16 years, has seen changes and expansion of their services since then, especially with the advent of the Web.

"There is information now available that people can easily access," she said. "At the same time, information is there for us, and in many cases, we can answer our callers more quickly than we once did and also answer e-mail sent to us."

The calls that came into JIRS are wide-ranging - from help with the youngest in the community to the elderly, related Youman. She - along with JIRS associates Linda Roth and Sandi Brecher, and volunteers - fields approximately 5,000 calls per year.

"Recently, we had a call from a friend of a young woman who was recovering from surgery and needed someone to live in and help take care of her toddler," said Youman. "We referred them to the Jewish Employment and Vocational Service to find someone to temporarily help out."

"Then there was the phone call from a 96-year-old woman who wanted to send her 95-year-old cousin a birthday card, but could only remember that the nursing home where she lived was in California and had the word "greene" in it. I found the address on the Web in 30 seconds."

While JIRS is often a first responder, Roth pointed out that they also listen to complaints, often finding answers "by trying to help and direct people appropriately, and sometimes, by providing an ear and just listening."

JIRS plays a part in referring seniors to NORCs (naturally recurring retirement communities) programs and SeniorCHAI programs at the Jewish Community Centers. Both are joint programs of Federation and Jewish Family and Children's Services.

In addition to the calls they answer, JIRS welcomes families to the community with Federation's Shalom Baby! program. Along with such items as a bib and insulated lunch bag is a Jewish resources booklet developed for young families. Federation's regions help identify the families and provide programming for them.

The referral service also contributes to a seniors resource guide and puts together the information for "The Guide to Jewish Philadelphia," which is published by the Jewish Exponent. Working as a clearinghouse for the community calendar, which is posted on Federation's Web site, JIRS helps organizations with duplication of dates and provides the community with information. JIRS staffer Sandi Brecher puts it all together and monitors the calendar.

Lee Zaslow, a volunteer with JIRS for almost three years, said she "likes the variety of calls that come in."

"I was particularly touched by a man who who wanted to make funeral arrangements for himself so his son would not have to be bothered. I referred him to a local funeral home, and he told me that gave him 'real peace of mind.'

"It is gratifying to help," acknowledged Zaslow. "It's volunteer work that nourishes me."

For information or to volunteer, call 215-832-0821.

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