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… 

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