• A Close-Up of the Friendly Visitor Program in Action

    Nov 24, 2017

    At Jewish Family Service, we highly value collaborating with others. We serve ALL corners of the county with our Friendly Visitor Program. Through partnerships between JFS Orange and five municipalities, we have found that we can be more effective in meeting the needs of neighbors and recruiting volunteers. A partnership was recently established with the Town of Warwick. I asked Jean Corbi Ciappa, an Advisory Board Member, if I could use an article that she wrote about the services as a blog post. Jean graciously agreed to be a guest blogger. Thank you Jean and to the Town of Warwick Friendly Visitor Program, we are happy to work with you!

    Marcia lives in her own apartment in one of Warwick’s senior housing developments and values her independence. Recently Marcia made a decision not to keep her car any longer since driving became more of a challenge than she wanted. Fortuitously, Marcia had seen a flyer for the Warwick Friendly Visitor Program on a bulletin board in her lobby and she decided to check it out.

    Marcia placed a call to the Warwick Town Hall and chose Option #1 to connect with the volunteer service. She left a message indicating she needed assistance in the form of a ride to get her weekly food shopping done. A return phone call led to the assignment of Deanne, a volunteer who likes the idea of giving of her time to people in her home town. Deanne is a retired teacher who learned about volunteering from her own mother when she was growing up. She seeks activities that are meaningful and found the Friendly Visitor Program to be important to people. Deanne quipped “It’s nice to be appreciated”.

    Marcia can now rely on always having her refrigerator stocked with the foods she likes. She has a routine Friendly Visitor who drives her to the supermarket and helps her reach items on shelves and carries her groceries into her home. Marcia also gets a ride from another volunteer for her occasional medical appointments.

    The Friendly Visitor Program is a volunteer service provided by the Town of Warwick in partnership with Jewish Family Service and the Office of the Aging, both of Orange County. Volunteers are matched to people who request help, and new neighborly bonds are made. Volunteers are screened and attend 4 hours of training to understand the parameters of the program. Volunteers offer their time either on a regular basis or an occasional basis, depending on their own interest and availability.

    The town of Warwick boasts of its 8,000 senior citizens—an impressive 25% of the total population.  The Friendly Visitor Program can be a solution for many seniors and other adults who need some help in maintaining their independence in their homes.  If it’s not food shopping, perhaps help with getting to a medical appointment is something that’s needed.  Volunteers can make a regular phone call to chat, or maybe visit for a game of cards, or help with sorting through some paperwork that is a bit overwhelming. A ride to our lovely town library to select a book or take advantage of one of the many programs can be a volunteer service as well.

    If you are someone who can contribute a few hours a week or month, perhaps you’d like to consider becoming a volunteer.  [Trainings are conducted on a regular basis. Check out the calendar on the JFS Orange website for a date and location that works for you.] Call the number below to leave a message about your interest and expect a return call within a few days.

    Perhaps you are someone who can use the help of a volunteer, or you know someone who could use some help.  Spread the word!  This is about neighbors helping neighbors.  [For the Warwick Friendly Visitor Program] call Town Hall 986-1124 Option #1 and get on board!

    If you are interested in the Friendly Visitor Program elsewhere in the county, please call the JFS Office: 341-1173 ext. 313

    Thanks again, Jean!  We appreciate how you are spreading the word!



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  • Assemblyman Skoufis shares his perspective with the JMHCA

    Nov 17, 2017

    Executive directors and administrators of nonprofits throughout Orange County meet on a monthly basis as part of a federation called the “Joint Members of Health and Community Agencies” (or JMHCA). Together, we learn about trends and changes in the human service field. We hear again and again from colleagues of other counties that Orange County is unique; we “play well in the sandbox.” Aside from discussions, learning from one another’s experiences, advocating as a group and collaborating on special projects, we enjoy hearing from guests. Earlier this week, we were honored to open our meeting to Assemblyman James Skoufis.

    This fall, Assemblyman Skoufis was named Chair of Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities. Interestingly, this task force had been on hiatus for over ten years. James is in the process of re-establishing this committee. He is bringing both action and heart to his role there.

    Please join me in learning a few of the insights shared by James:

    • “Every single person in NYS has the right to live with dignity.”
    • The NYS Constitution has a section of Civil Rights. Expressed in the constitution are names of specific groups (including gender, race, religion, etc.). These groups are not to be discriminated against. There is a clear omission in the constitution. Where is disability? James is working on including “disabilities” as a group along with the others named. He values the importance of identifying this as part. Increased awareness of people with disabilities is a start.
    • James is looking at accessibility issues. He is working with others in making buildings and housing more accessible. (Locally, Independent Living and Recap are taking initiatives here.)
    • While James sees the role of government in helping peoples’ lives, he honored the work of the nonprofits at the table.

    We are a mirror for him, as he is surely a champion. Especially in the role of Chair of the Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities, James is speaking up for those who have no or little voice. Thank you, Assemblyman Skoufis for your advocacy!


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  • Join me in celebrating our MSC Department!

    Sep 19, 2017

    Empowering all people facing challenging times to live with dignity, hope and strength is the mission of Jewish Family Service. This mission expresses itself in an array of programs. We work with many people facing challenging times. One of the agency’s oldest programs is that of “Medicaid Service Coordination.” This program operates under the rules and regulations of the New York State Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, or “OPWDD” for short! The definition of a Medicaid Service Coordinator or MSC is: “A professional, selected by the person or family from an approved list, who helps the person access supports and services.”

    There surely are many, many guidelines to follow when it comes to putting this valuable role into action. In simple terms, MSC’s ensure that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities lead a meaningful life, living in a home that is clean and comfortable, having proper nutrition, healthcare, socialization, stimulation throughout the days and evenings, medical care and access to the community. Choice is key in all of the decisions. We take a “Person Centered” perspective, following the people we serve. There is no one size fits all when it comes to doing the work we do.

    The “C” of MSC is critical. Coordinating all of the people in a person’s life, including the various agencies that help to serve people with disabilities is critical. It includes documenting every phone call, email correspondence, meetings, getting signatures and following through.

    We are grateful that we are not alone. OPWDD offers us oversight. They have trainings, webinars and yes, there are regular audits. At least once a year, a thorough review is conducted. Earlier this week, we had one such survey.

    Let us keep in mind that the State Surveyors are paid not only to keep us on our toes, but to find mistakes! They pay attention to every detail, and like an archeologist will dig and dig. If they read about a conversation that transpired regarding medical testing, they will continue to turn the pages to find out that the testing was done. What are the results? What about the treatment? And follow up, how is the person now? Not a pebble is left unturned. Typically, surveyors are in our office for eight full hours and they do not take a moment’s break.

    At the exit interview, we sit with the surveyors to hear how we stand. How can we improve? We are offered a “Statement of Deficiencies”. You get the picture. Notes are written on a six page template, with space after space for deficiencies noted. When hearing of the places that we need to improve, we need to submit a “Plan of Corrective Action”. Yes, you guessed, at a later time, we will be checked to see if we followed through with our “Plan”.

    On the “Statement of Deficiencies” we had five blank pages! As much as she dug, there was not one deficiency that our auditor found. She could not make one single recommendation! Here are her notes:

    “Records are clean and concise. All required forms are easily located. SCOR reports [Service Coordination Observation Report] are routinely done. ISP [Individual Service Plans] reports are comprehensive and complete. MSC notes are detailed, relevant, personal and specific. The MSC conveys a clear interest in each individual. Face to Face and home visits exceed the minimum requirements.“

    I cannot help but celebrate the phenomenal work of our MSC Department. They shine in ways that go beyond the roles mentioned above. Our auditor would like Marjorie Faber, the Director of Medicaid Service Coordination, to train others throughout the field. She always puts the person first, will sing songs to some people to greet them, advocate for simple, but important things like a haircut and staunchly advocate for those she works with, when needed.

    We do not advertise our MSC Department; according to regs, we cannot do so. We can simply let people know that we offer the service, along with many other service providers throughout the county. In spite of our lack of outreach, our phone rings all the time, looking for MSC’s to offer this service to their loved ones. They come to JFS Orange due to our outstanding reputation. Now you have a sense why.

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  • Opening doors for James

    Aug 24, 2017

    We love win win situations. At times, there is more than a “double win.” Hiring James Cartright for our KidsConnect Camp in the summer of 2016 was one of those situations. James worked as a “Mentor in Training” which we like to call, “MIT”.

    We’ll fill you in on the “wins” in a moment. Let us first read a few words from James:

    “In the summer of 2016 I had the opportunity to work at the KidsConnect Camp at Jewish Family Service of Orange County. During my two weeks there, I became very passionate about my work. I had a lot of fun assisting the campers and participating with them in activities. My favorite part of the day was seeing all the campers going home with a big smile on their faces from having an amazing day at camp. My experience at KidsConnect was truly heartwarming.

    “KidsConnect inspired me to continue in this field of work. Over the next six months, I was a seasonal/part time worker at iKan. At iKan, I assist adults with specials needs in the community. I help them work on their personal goals. KidsConnect opened doors for me to continue this work out in the community. I am truly thankful to Jewish Family Service and the entire KidsConnect family for letting me be a part of such an amazing organization. “

    • Win number 1: The kids loved James in 2016!
    • Win number 2: James found a new passion in the work that he did!
    • Win number 3: James pursued this passion and now has a meaningful job with an Orange County based agency, offering care to people with disabilities.
    • Win number 4: James returned to KidsConnect for the Summer 2017 season. Aside from working as a counselor, he is a gifted musician and offered daily music workshops to those who choose to participate.  The campers sincerely resonate with James’s sense of calm.

    Typically, we highlight stories of the many people who receive needed services from JFS Orange. We are aware that we are also touching the lives of volunteers and staff. In this case, our work made an impression on a young adult who now has doors opening for him.  KidsConnect was a start.

    KidsConnect is a therapeutic day camp for children ages 5-18 with any type of disability. We wish James the best as his future unfolds. We also wish (and are working hard) for sustaining the valuable KidsConnect Day Camp. We have faced challenges with funding in recent years. If you have any ideas of sources for this program, please call the office!

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  • Who am I anyway?

    May 25, 2017

    I have tended to shy away from academic theory in this blog. While sitting at the Fourth Annual LGBTQIA+ Youth Conference, I could not help myself but remember one psychologist whose theories resonated with me. Erik Erikson looked at our life span in terms of how we navigate through “conflicts” that each developmental stage presents. The “fifth stage” which roughly occurs between the ages of 12-18 years old offers the conflict of “Identity vs. Role Confusion”.  According to his theory, it is during this stage that teens are searching for a sense of self and personal identity. There are intense explorations of personal values, beliefs and goals.

    So it is not surprising, that the teens of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) chose the theme for this year’s conference to be, “LGBTQ stereotyping: Who am I anyway?” All teens are wondering about their identity. They are negotiating who they are as individuals and where they may stand in society. Throughout history, we’ve had questions about identity. But the questions of identity were explored at the conference with a specific lens, that of the lens of the LGBTQIA+ culture. Now, we have terms; new words now have definitions. My hope is that in another blog post, I will share some of these terms, as space here does not allow! Thankfully, now there is safety (in some places) to talk about these definitions, where to get support, how to make decisions as we are discovering “who am I anyway?” Now, we can talk about assumptions. The conference, attended by over sixty people, offered a venue to listen to adult speakers about their journey, to hear from teen presenters and to be inspired.

    Decorating “Genderbread Cookies” was part of the activities; this offered participants an interesting way of looking at gender. The brain, heart and biology all have an impact on different aspects of our…

    • Gender identity (what we think about ourselves)
    • Gender expression (how we demonstrate our gender)
    • Biological sex (organs, body parts, hormones)
    • Sexual orientation (who we are physically, spiritually and emotionally attracted to)

    There were options to write postcards to our elected officials to voice concerns around LGBTQ issues. People from area human service agencies had tables in which they shared information.

    And one of the most valued elements was that teens met other teens from across the county; teens that they could relate to. It was a place for connection.

    “Empowering people facing challenging times to live with dignity, hope and strength” is the mission of JFS Orange. What was our role in this conference? With the support of funding from the Orange County Youth Bureau, we partner with high schools in the region. We guide, facilitate and empower the students to organize a conference. They are learning leadership skills. The teens learn how to:

    • create a meaningful theme
    • schedule an event from start to finish
    • reach out to speakers
    • publicize the conference
    • budget for food and supplies
    • evaluate their efforts
    • make a difference!

    We are honored to be a part of helping youth to organize this conference. It’s just a day behind us, and ideas for the Fifth Annual LGBTQIA+ Conference are already brewing!

    Some resources:





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  • Celebrating Kindness

    Mar 21, 2017

    What an honor it was to be at the opening reception of the “Student Creative Expression Exhibit of 2017”. It was the culmination of work of students throughout the Hudson Valley; they worked on pieces expressing “Celebrating Kindness”. For me, the event was both an education and a true celebration!

    I learned from Rob Conlon, the Co-Chair of Hudson Valley GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) that the “Celebrating Kindness” exhibit has been held locally for the last ten years, and nationally for the last fifteen. It is an outcome of “No Name Calling Week” with a more positive spin. It turns out that we in the Hudson Valley, we are a model for the nation!

    Hundreds of works of art from students throughout Orange, Dutchess and Ulster Counties were on display. At JFS Orange, we helped to facilitate engagement from students of the GSA’s (Gay Straight Alliances) of Washingtonville High School and the Newburgh Free Academy. Sharyn Alexander, a creative arts facilitator and a Maria Benaissa, Social Work intern opened the doors of conversation, thought and creativity. Most of the students, whose work was on display, were in attendance. It was a cherished moment, to witness these teens being recognized for their work.

    Fred Mayo, the President of the Board of Directors of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center spoke of his experience of being bullied from early on. Fred went through kindergarten twice, as he “drew outside the lines”. Thankfully, we now encourage people to do so; we respect people as they express who they are! Both GLSEN and the HV LGBTQ Center were critical in organizing the annual event. Thank you to Tess Martin, the Program Specialist and Jake Salt, Director of Programs and Services, along with Rob Conlon, who all did so much in the behind the scenes organizing!

    Our program, Teens Connect is made possible through a grant from the Orange County Youth Bureau. We also have support from the County Executive, Steven Neuhaus, who on behalf of the county wrote a proclamation declaring “No Name Calling Week” to be honored in Orange County. The ongoing support of Darcie Miller, Commissioner of Social Services and Mental Health is appreciated. And as an active member of the Cultural Equity Task Force of Orange County, we strongly advocate that it is the right of people from every culture to express themselves and develop in an environment free from oppression.

    A tapestry was woven. The students’ individual pieces were part of their school’s submission. And the schools together formed a beautifully curated exhibit. This exhibit will be on display all week-long at the FDR Library and Museum. If you have a chance, I encourage you to go! You will leave inspired and with a smile.

    There were so many moving words shared. Quotes from both FDR and Eleanor were recited. I really did get chills hearing many of them. But I’ll leave you with one of my favorites from the Dalai Lama, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”



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  • Achieving Racial Equity in Human Service Practice

    Jan 16, 2017

    Here we are on Martin Luther King Day. It is fitting for me to sit down and finally share some thoughts about a presentation I attended last month. As a member of the Cultural Equity Task Force of Orange County, I have the honor of serving in the role of Community Training Committee Chairperson. In December, the county hosted three brilliant women to discuss the topic in which this blogpost is titled.

    Sandra Bernabei, Cyndi Carnaghi and Tracy Givens-Hunter led the workshop. Though they are well versed in talking about institutionalized racism, they did not come in with all the answers. If anyone had all the answers, we would not need to be having this discussion in 2016. What the workshop leaders brought to the table were many questions; questions that 150 attendees were engaged in answering during our morning together.

    Some questions that were asked include:

    • What is culture?
    • What is race?
    • How do disparities show up?
    • Where is there discrimination?
    • What is power? And where are you on the “Power Line”?
    • Why are people poor?
    • How do the systems you work in diminish, discount and disrespect communities of color?
    • How does your agency act as a barrier to success for these communities?

    The room was covered with flip chart paper that was filled with responses. We were all challenged and encouraged to take these questions and discussions back. Back to our agencies, back to the Cultural Equity Task Force, back to our homes, on the lines of the supermarket checkout counter, and everywhere we encounter racism. The beginning of making change is to start with where we are; to have the dialogue where ever we have power. That is where we need to organize!

    At Jewish Family Service of Orange County, our mission is to: empower all people facing challenging times to live with dignity, hope and strength. What a perfect opportunity we have as human service providers to ask difficult questions, engage in meaningful discussion and make positive change.

    And fitting today, to end this post with a quote from one of our heroes, “the time is always right to do the right thing,” Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Special thanks to the Trauma Institute of Orange County, JMHCA and funding from Orange County for their sponsorship of this presentation. Photo above left to right: Elise Gold, Sandy Bernabei, Tracy Givens-Hunter and Cyndi Carnaghi.


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  • Teens Connect Truly Sparkles!

    Dec 23, 2016

    Among the many programs that JFS Orange offers is a program, “Teens Connect.” It is there that we partner with GSA’s throughout the county, supporting youth who identify as LGBTQ and their allies. What are GSA’s? They are after-school clubs; GSA stands for “Gay Straight Alliance.” We are proud to have the support of the Orange County Youth Bureau and during 2016, the Tompkins Charitable Gift Fund. With funding through these sources, graduate level interns, social workers and expressive art facilitators work in area school districts. During the fall months, we facilitate teens in an art project that ultimately will be shown in two venues: in their local high school during “No Name Calling Week” in January and then at the FDR Museum and Library. The Hyde Park exhibition occurs in the spring, along with art pieces of teens throughout the Hudson Valley. The local teens have a chance to work individually, with a group, and then have the experience of being part of something larger.

    As much as I can, I like to get out in the field. I love to see our work in action. What an honor it was to see some of the pieces and talk with the teens. The project that one group created was boxes. The outside and inside of the boxes represented different parts of themselves. (The other group is working on accordion books.) I asked some of the youth, what they got out of the project. Here are some quotes they offered:

    C, “It was a great experience. I am an ally. I have a lot of family members that are part of the LGBTQ community. Doing this work was a way for me to give back to a community that I strongly support.”

    J, “I liked the creative aspect; we got to be expressive. I painted my box all black on the outside, because I seem to hide my feelings. The sparkles on the inside represent the people in my life. They give more light to my life.”

    B, “Doing this project helped me to understand more about myself because I had to express my emotions physically instead of keeping them inside. It was interesting to see how different all of our boxes were. It’s fun to see what they represented.”

    W, “I was trying to represent me- cool on the outside and really weird on the inside.”

    A, “I put a lot of random pieces all together and it fits. It explains who I am. My outside just shows the way I look; the inside shows my authentic self.”

    R, “I especially liked the beginning because we all started with the same materials and we all came up with something different. It was so interesting.”

    B, “It was fun! It was a different way to express myself. I pretty much used what I found and connected to. I wish this club were more well-known.” [At that time, I informed B. that their spring project would be to organize a conference; my sense is their club would then become more well-known!]

    J, “I thought it was fun and I enjoyed doing it. I really like to make things and I like myself. Since this is art, it was right up my alley. In addition, I really like working with my friends.”

    At a time that the LGBTQ population is marginalized, it is more important than ever to create a safe space for self-expression and support. Working with the GSA’s is another way that we put our mission into action: “Jewish Family Service of Orange County empowers all people facing challenging times to live with dignity, hope and strength.”

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  • When Past is Present, Part 3… or, Never forget, never again, and never fully understand.

    Dec 19, 2016

    “Empathy.” As a social worker, this word is part of my life’s blood. When I talk with people about what the word, “empathy” means, I am clear that it is not the same as “sympathy.” We are not feeling sorry for a person. Empathy expresses a way of feeling with a person. As best as we can, we try to understand what it is like to be in their shoes, their skin, their heart.

    When being empathic, we attempt to quiet our mind. We work on turning down the volume of

    • fixing something
    • judging someone
    • letting them know of our own personal experiences (taking the focus off of them)

    Exhibiting true empathy takes discipline. Like any exercise, we need to work to keep this muscle flexed. We

    • listen
    • are fully present
    • witness
    • show curiosity
    • hold space in our heart for the person
    • understand

    Generally speaking, if a person senses that you are genuinely empathic, it will open the door to a trusting relationship. With this level of trust, sharing will likely deepen.

    I recently heard from an adult child of a Holocaust survivor, “we will never understand.” It really hit me; this was tremendous awakening. No matter how much I use every empathic cell in my being, I will never understand. This lesson was a gift. My sense is that when working with Holocaust survivors, I will continue to be as empathic as ever. At the same time, I know, that I will never understand. If appropriate, I will share, “though I am doing my best, I know that I will never understand.” My sense is, that this too, will open doors of a deeper, more trusting relationship.

    (Photo is of Toby L. and Rena N.  Toby and Rena are incredible women who shared their story of surviving the Holocaust, Resilience and Aging)

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  • When the Past is Present: Trauma-Informed Care for Holocaust Survivors Part 2

    Dec 16, 2016

    Please take some time to hear reflections of Paula, Liz and Stacy as they share some pearls of wisdom that they learned from the conference. (For more details on the conference, kindly take a peek at our last blog post.) There will be one more story related to our time at this inspirational time in NYC in an upcoming blogpost.

    “I was most impacted by the information shared during the workshop: Dehumanization and Empathy: Service Delivery Responses to Holocaust Survivors led by Irit Felsen, Clinical Psychologist.  She shared the concept of “Less Human than I” and how the human brain interprets weakness and disabilities as “inhuman”. Those who are physically sick or deformed or emotionally distressed can be perceived, by the brain of caregivers, as “less than human”. She gave valuable tools to combat an automatic response.  One of the most valuable tools that she shared is easily accomplished.  By finding a photograph of the patient or person in live action at an earlier time in their life and blowing it up to almost life size, by displaying it predominantly in the room where a caregiver would be caring for the individual, it helps to associate the person being cared for with the person they have always been, and not as the helpless or ill person that they may be now.  A caregiver automatically relates the image with the person and helps to humanize them.”  ~Paula Blumenau, Outreach Coordinator

    “I was impressed by the speaker who described how dehumanization occurs and helped us to see how we all lose empathy in relating those who are different from us. Elderly trauma survivors are particularly susceptible to dehumanization because we want to distance ourselves from the ravages of aging and because the disgust we feel for their trauma is put onto the victim. The speaker encouraged us to look for commonalities with others, imagine what they had been like before the illness or loss of ability so that we continue to see them as being like ourselves.   In this way, we encourage empathy.” ~Liz Kadesh, Founding Executive Director of JFS Orange and Social Work Supervisor

    “I learned that by making a spreadsheet calculating the total reparations a survivor has received throughout their lifetime, this amount should be excluded when determining if a person would be eligible for Medicaid. If a survivor has resources/savings either equal to that amount or less than that amount, these monies are not counted as a resource therefore allowing the person to receive Medicaid.   This will prove to be a tremendous source of financial support to some Holocaust people that we serve.”   ~Stacy Ocko-Lulkin, Case Manager

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