Thursday, October 30, 2014

Assessing the Needs of Shoah Survivors

Last week flew by! I was a little worried after having the extra days off for all of the Jewish holidays, but I always seem to find a way to fill up the time, plus some! On Monday, I attended the October CafĂ© Europa and got to meet even more survivors. I was able to introduce myself to the group and hand out copies of the flyers for our town hall meetings that were later in the week. I was also able to give out and collect surveys from survivors who knew they would not be able to attend the town hall events.  I also had the opportunity to talk to survivors about how they are doing, what AmeriCorps is, and what I am hoping to do with my time at JFS. It was an amazing opportunity to let the survivor community know what I am up to, and personally, it meant a lot to me to be able to sit and talk with them about anything, even if it was just about the weather or the quality of the pool at the JCC. All of the survivors have been incredibly welcoming and willing, if not eager, to talk to me and include me in their conversations, etc.

On Wednesday, we had our first town hall meeting. The first one was held at the Oak Park Jewish Community Center in Russian. I was a little disappointed at first because we only had one survivor show up. In hindsight, I am grateful that he came. We were able to not only find out his needs, but we were able to learn about his story, his life before, during, and after the Holocaust. It was a great opportunity for me to connect with a member of the Russian speaking population.  The following town hall that afternoon, at the same location, but in English we had a better turnout. We were able to get a lot of feedback from those that attended, and I was able to collect more survey responses from those we had not yet reached. 

On Thursday, we held two more town hall meetings. The first meeting was at JFS, and we had two in attendance. While two may not sound like a lot, we received a ton of feedback from those two people. They were able to bring up issues and needs that had not been brought up by the previous groups.  Our later meeting was held at the Holocaust Memorial Center and had a smaller than hoped for attendance. We did, however, have several caregivers also attend, as well as someone from hospice that was able to provide another dimension of feedback. All of the survivors and others in attendance that I met with were able to provide critical feedback that will help shape my direction over the rest of my year. One of the most touching things to happen was when survivors and their children took the time to thank me for what I am doing. I am excited to be able to help survivors in any way I can, and it took me by surprise to be thanked for taking a year and trying to make a difference.

Now that I am done with the town hall meetings, I will move on to other parts of my outreach and needs assessment. I am currently looking into more direct mailings of surveys to survivors to get more feedback, and we are looking into setting up town hall events for the children and grandchildren of survivors. My hope is that by talking to the children and grandchildren of survivors separately I will be able to hear more feedback, and possibly gain a different perspective on the needs of the survivor community. So far, we have had over 52% response rate for our mailed survey! That is very exciting, and I never expected to get such a great response rate. These are just a few of the things I am looking at doing in the near future. I am more excited now for the rest of the work I have the privilege of doing than I was when I started the job. 

Until next week... 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Spreading the Word

Welcome back everyone! With the shorter weeks for the holidays, I decided to take a break so I would have a little more to write about.  Quite a bit has happened since I last posted. Town hall meetings are taking place this week. Time sure is flying by! In the past two weeks, in addition to confirming the dates for the community meetings, I finalized the flyers, got assistance in translating them to Russian, and started flyering. With the help of the case workers and supervisors flyers have been going up all over town. Also, we decided to do a direct mailing campaign that includes the flyer and the survey in an attempt to get more people to come to the town hall meeting and to respond to the needs assessment survey.  The survey was also translated into Russian. I was able to directly mail about 200 survivors with a copy of the flyer in the appropriate language and included a copy of the survey as well with an addressed and stamped envelope. I have already received over 50 responses! In addition to the first wave of direct mailings, several hundred bilingual copies of the flyer were being stuffed into bills that went out last week. I am hoping that all of this work will lead to having a lot of feedback. The more feedback I have, the better job I can do in assessing the needs of the survivor community.  I am also thinking about doing a second mailing, possibly after the town hall meetings, with the survey and a letter explaining what I am doing and what information I’m hoping to collect. That way those that could not attend can make sure their voice is heard. All in all, about 660 flyers have been sent out through the mail and flyering campaigns.

So, this week we are holding four town hall meetings. Three of the town hall meetings will be in English, in a variety of locations, and at a variety of times, and one will be held in Russian for the Russian-speaking survivors. I am very proud of our effort to make sure to include the Russian speaking population as they can sometimes be overlooked. I hope that by translating all of our documents into Russian and having Russian-speaking representatives at the town hall, they will be able to come and express their concerns. Once I have collected all of the surveys I can begin to crunch the numbers and see what the common needs are. Additionally, my survey should help us identify those that would like me to meet with them one on one to discuss their needs, or those that would like additional follow up from either the resource center, or their current case worker.

Since I can never seem to do one thing at a time I have also started doing some research on best practices for working with survivors as additional support, or even differences in communication expectations may be needed based on the survivor’s experiences. My hope is to use this information to update the training materials we currently have for training volunteers, caseworkers, and possibly even elder care facilities that are not aware of the special needs for survivors. I have also received some great resources from a fellow VISTA I met at my national training in August that may lead to some new funding sources for new projects based on the needs assessment. I am very happy about all of the work I am getting done, and even more excited about the possibilities of where this first step may take me, as well as my organization.

Until next week…