Monday, September 29, 2014

Committees, Cooperation, and Compassion: Integration at JFS

Last week was very exciting for me. I began my week by attending our Holocaust Survivor Advisory Committee meeting. The group meets quarterly and is required for our agency to work with the Claims Conference. Additionally, my work as a VISTA requires that I have a committee comprised of the community I am serving to help provide direct feedback on my efforts. The first meeting went incredibly well. My supervisor introduced me briefly and I continued, explaining the new federal initiative started by the White House, the deployment of AmeriCorps VISTAs around the nation to help with the effort, and what my plan was here at JFS of Metro Detroit.

Following my brief introduction, I was able to show the committee the flyers, advertisements, and needs assessment survey I have been working on for the last week or so. They were able to give feedback on parts they liked and did not like. They provided candid feedback and were not afraid to ask questions about why certain parts of the flyers were worded the way they were. They were very curious about why I specified both “Holocaust Survivors” and “Victims of Nazi Persecution” in the advertising materials. This brings up a very interesting part of my job here. Something I have learned since joining the team is that while many would consider a Holocaust survivor to be someone that survived a ghetto or camp, the definition we, and many others, use is not that clear cut. JFS uses the definition put forth by the Claims Conference. While it is very technical and varies based on different funds, essentially survivors did not have to have spent time in a camp or ghetto to be eligible for financial support or services through JFS. Because of this many people that do not consider themselves survivor would actually fit the broadened definition by the Claims Conference. For this reason, we decided that we should list both “Holocaust survivors” and “Survivors of Nazi Oppression” in an attempt to reach those that are not currently receiving assistance because they do not know about it. I am constantly reminded that my job here is not only to help those we are currently helping, but to also reach out and find those that need help, but do not know they are eligible to receive it. Overall, the meeting went well and the survivors seemed very excited about what I am doing here and were willing to help in any way possible.

The following day I was able to participate in the Jewish Senior Life Networking Professionals Meeting. This meeting allowed a variety of agencies that work with older adults in the Jewish community to come together, share resources, network, and learn about the special needs these clients have. This particular meeting focused primarily on the Holocaust and indemnification for survivors. This allowed me to introduce myself to the variety of organizations, etc. and let them know that I am here to help if they have any questions.  I enjoyed the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people that all work for one common cause, though it is through many different ways.
Finally, the highlight of my week was our all staff meeting at JFS, which is conducted annually. While I was at first a little unsure about the prospect of a 4 hour meeting, it ended up being a great opportunity. We spent the time meeting new people at JFS and working as a team to build better communication skills. We were able to see how interconnected various parts of JFS are, how many people it takes to do something as simple as get a flood victim a new furnace, and we even took time to discuss communication styles and how to ease tensions with those we work with that communicate differently than we do. Additionally, we rolled out our new mission statement, which I am a big fan of. It says, “Inspired by the wisdom and values of Jewish tradition, we strengthen lives through compassionate service.” I think that this new mission statement really does a great job of putting into words the general feeling that I get when working here. It is not just another office place. Yes, people are stressed, have hard days, and are eager for the weekends, but the atmosphere here buzzes with the excitement that every day we get to put ourselves out there and have a direct impact on people’s lives. As for compassionate service, I can say without a doubt this is something that is imbedded into the foundation of this organization. Every day my co-workers, supervisors, and peers are willing and eager to help me in any way possible. Whether it is answering a question, listening to a concern, or just providing feedback when I am not sure what to do next. If my co-workers can do this for me when I am new and doing a job that is a little outside the box, I have every confidence that they actively provide compassionate service to those they serve.

This post is for the previous week, but because our work week was shorter here due to the Jewish New Year I'm just now getting a chance to publish it. Since last week was only a couple of days long, and most of it was spent building a list of places for me to flyer for the new initiative I will just start with a new post next week about what I'm doing this week!

Until next week… 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meetings, Media, and Many Mensches

Last week was a whirlwind! While the previous week was spent learning the ins and outs of the office, helping with flood relief, and trying not to get lost in my own building (let alone the commute from one location to another). I spent last week meeting with my bosses, directors of various community organizations that work with Holocaust survivors, and developing new flyers and promotional materials for the new initiative I am part of.

I had the good fortune to meet with the director of the Detroit National Council of Jewish Women. This provided a great opportunity to learn about the history of the organization as well as the services they provide to the community. At first, I was a little nervous about going to the meeting alone, but it was fine. Everyone in this field has been very nice, and has been incredibly welcoming.  They provide so much to the community that I had not ever heard of. I enjoyed getting to talk about what I am here at JFS to do and how our two organizations can work together to meet these goals. The director was also able to provide suggestions on how I can get the word out about our town hall meetings through community groups, publications, new media, etc.

The following day I got to meet with the director of the Holocaust Memorial Center, and it was another great meeting that proved to be incredibly productive.  I was able to provide a brief overview of what I will be doing during my year of service, and what my goals are. Then we were able to discuss how I plan on going about locating survivors, providing a needs assessment, and ways to engage with the community. The director was able to provide some good ideas that, hopefully, should eliminate frustration for both parties, and will allow us to gather the information we want to collect. Additionally, he was kind enough to allow us to use some of his space if we need it for our future town hall meetings, etc. During my meeting with the director, I got to meet a Holocaust survivor, and got to explain to him what I am here to do. It was a profound experience to meet this kind man and hear him talk about his needs, things he has heard in his community, and to see his eyes light up when he saw that someone was interested in what he and his peers needed to make their lives better. On the way out of the museum, I got to meet another staff member who is excited about me joining the team and wants to plan some events where I can interact with the community in conjunction with the center. I left the meeting feeling awesome and refueled to keep working on this awesome job. It is not often that someone can leave a meeting feeling excited about their work, let alone on a Friday, but I was on a work induced high most of the weekend.

Until next week…

Friday, September 12, 2014

Happy Birthday AmeriCorps!

So this isn't my weekly post, I guess we will call this a supplemental post. I just wanted to take a quick moment to congratulate AmeriCorps on the celebration of its 20th birthday! Today is very exciting. Around the nation AmeriCorps members, alumni, and citizens will be participating in swearing in ceremonies. Below I've attached a couple of articles, YouTube videos, etc. about AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, and why it is so important. Additionally, the upcoming year marks 50 years of AmeriCorps VISTA! Take a look and help us celebrate this important day!

CNN article about AmeriCorps and its creation:

AmeriCorps 20th anniversary video:

AmeriCorps VISTA 50 Year Promo:

Live Stream of AmeriCorps Swearing in at White House (Starts @ 11am):

AmeriCorps Celebration Website:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Learning the ropes & hitting the ground running

Welcome to my new blog! As those who already know me are aware I have started a new position with Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit in Holocaust Survivor Services as an AmeriCorps VISTA through a new national initiative started by Vice President Biden. I am very excited to have this amazing opportunity to not only put my degree to use in a relevant field, but to also have the opportunity to work in the Jewish community, helping the approximately 25% of Holocaust Survivors that live in poverty. My job at JFS is to locate survivors who are currently not engaged with JFS, let them know they are eligible for a variety of social services, meet with current clients as well as future clients to discuss what new services they would need in the future, and ultimately develop a sustainability plan so JFS can continue to support its services for survivors.

My goal for this blog is to post about once a week to let my friends, family, fellow VISTAs, and most importantly, the community I'm here to serve see what I'm learning, planning, and doing. I first got into blogging after I graduated in May as part of my funding for my trip to Rwanda. During my trip I blogged for each day I was there, and was surprised at how many people came to read what I had to write! The response was truly overwhelming. If you're interested in that trip here is a link: This experience is what got me thinking about how I could integrate a blog into my year of service at JFS, through AmeriCorps. There are a lot of exciting things that I will get to do over the next year, and I'm sure many more things that I will learn. For AmeriCorps it is an exciting year as they are about to celebrate their 20th anniversary, and VISTA will celebrate its 50th anniversary in the coming year. I've joined at a very exciting, and historic, period in the long legacy of AmeriCorps service.

Last week was a whirlwind! I went to training the week before in Philadelphia, and started at my job site after the holiday weekend. I got to do some initial training, orientation, and all the normal paperwork associated with a new job. After the formalities were out of the way I jumped right in. I was able to shadow one of my supervisors at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Oak Park where my JFS was working with the community for flood assistance. For those of you that don't know, the Detroit area was hit hard about 3 weeks ago with heavy rains that caused a lot of flood damage. In some communities, such as Oak Park, the sewer system backed up and flooded residents basements with sewage. This has put a strain on the community at large, and an even bigger one on those that already live in low income households. JFS has partnered with many organizations to provide assistance with clean-up and recovery. This shadowing opportunity allowed me to interact directly with the community I will be serving, and really drove home a lot of the core principles I learned at my VISTA training. I had the opportunity to shadow both Tuesday and Thursday and both experiences were unique, and indispensable for learning about the community. Beyond this shadowing, I also had the opportunity to learn about the community I'm serving through a variety of meetings, manuals, and other training content that further expanded my understanding of those I am serving. I've also already started planning and development for the first in a series of town hall meetings and focus groups to allow me to better assess the needs of the survivor community, while finding more survivors and providing information about our services.