Thursday, May 28, 2015

Presentations, Preparation, and Polish Pensions

Well another month has come and gone. As of today I am a VISTA for only 93 short days! Where has the time gone!? On Tuesday I gave my first booster training session at JFS, the topic was “After the War: Displaced Persons Camps, and the Fate of Soviet Jews.” I had a pretty good turnout, about 28 staff members in all. We were able to discuss what life was like in the months and years after World War II and the Holocaust. Additionally, we discussed what life was like for Jews in Russia during and after the Holocaust. My next booster is at the end of June and will address the Nazi death camp system.

While preparing for the lecture I have also been preparing for a big trip. I have been invited to give a lecture about the Rwandan Genocide at the University of Giessen in Germany. I will leave on Monday and arrive and give my lecture on Tuesday. After some days at the university I will visit my original host student and her family from high school. I will then go on a road trip with a friend to visit all of the Nazi death camps in Poland. I will be able to see a couple of sites I’ve visited before, and many others that I have never had the opportunity to visit. This will be a great experience for me to learn and see firsthand the sites of the Holocaust. I can then take this experience and knowledge back to JFS to inform the training I will be doing a few weeks later on the Nazi death camp system.

One of the big things JFS has been doing recently, and I have had the opportunity to assist in the organization of, has been setting up clinics to help Survivors to apply for a newly available Polish Pension. For those that were Polish citizens and were persecuted/ oppressed they may be eligible for a small pension each month. We have utilized volunteers to take down the important information needed to fill out the application as well as their story as that is required. We are also using donor funds to pay to have this information translated so we can then fill out the application and send them off to Poland. It is a great experience to not only assist in setting these up, but to be able to help survivors seek the restitution they deserve. 

During the "After the War" JFS Training

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Town Halls, Teaching, and Teeth

Hello everyone! It’s been a while since I last posted, things have been very busy! So at the end of March I held my final town hall event for the children of Survivors to find out if they had any additional input in the needs of their parents, or others in the community. Overall, I think the event was a success. It allowed us to listen to the community, and also educate the children on the services we provide. As the parents age, it is important that we reach out to their children so they know what services JFS provides. With the conclusion of the town hall I have been able to officially finalize the needs assessment report.

In the meantime I was able to finalize, and send out, the first ever JFS Holocaust Survivor Newsletter. The newsletter keeps the Survivor community informed about happenings at JFS that are relevant to them. While many younger clients can check out our facebook page, or are on our eblast list, most survivors are not. This newsletter will allow them to know what restitution funds are available, what services we offer, and what JFS is doing to improve services for the Survivor community. I was able to mail out about 500 newsletters to our clients and distribute additional copies into the community.  We have had an overwhelming response from the community, with lots of calls coming in from Survivors asking about new programs that we have started at JFS. I am excited that we can engage on this level with the community, and possibly connect them to new programs and resources that can help them age in their homes.

The other big thing I’ve been working on for the last few months has been a large all staff training event. I’ve been developing an interactive and engaging presentation to educate the staff at JFS about the Holocaust in time for Yom HaShoah, which was a couple weeks ago. I have always been very passionate about Holocaust education, and was honored to be asked to speak with my colleagues about an event that had a huge impact on Jewish history, and really affects what we do here at JFS. The presentation went incredibly well and all of the technology cooperated. I was able to integrate pictures, videos, and live polling in the presentation to help make it more interactive and interesting. It is a fine line to walk in Holocaust education between making the content accessible and engaging without trivializing the history.

Since the lecture I’ve been hard at work. I’ve been coordinating a new pilot program in Metro-Detroit. The Alpha Omega Henry Schein Cares Holocaust Survivors Oral Health Program. The goal of the program is to help the most financially vulnerable in the Survivor community with the express goals of eliminating pain and restoring function.  So far I have been able to refer out about 8 Survivors who are receiving amazing care from many volunteer dentists in our community. Many people don’t think about the challenges associated with having oral health problems, but there are many and they can impact many parts of your life. Hopefully this program will allow those with the most need to live their lives with one less problem as they age. 

One last thing... today is my mother's birthday. Happy Birthday Mom!!