March 2020

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By Deborah Vietor

Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS) will highlight its support of more than 39,500 San Diegans of all ages, faiths and backgrounds and share stories of success from throughout the year at its annual Heart & Soul Gala next month. For 102 years, JFS has been a pillar of the San Diego community, fueled by its volunteers and community partners.

2020 Mitzvah Honorees
The event will celebrate the contributions of JFS’s 2020 Mitzvah honorees: Danielle and Brian Miller, Marcia Hazan, and HIAS, an international nonprofit resettling refugees.

Owners of Geppetto’s toy store, Danielle and Brian Miller donate hundreds of gifts to JFS’s Embrace-A-Family holiday campaign and the Jewish Big Pals/Supporting Jewish Single Parents Chanukah party each year.

“We’re passionate about supporting children because we know when they thrive, our whole community gets stronger,” the husband and wife said. “And that is why we are involved with JFS. Their services are multi-faceted; touching every organization from the youngest, to the young at heart who are meeting the challenges of aging.”

One of this year’s JFS Gala Chairs is Marie Raftery, a businesswoman and philanthropist who also served as chair of the Board of Directors for JFS from 2017-2019. She is a longtime supporter of JFS’s mission to build a community of stronger families and greater opportunities, creating healthier and happier lives at any age.

“For over 10 years, the Millers’ passion for helping children thrive has strengthened the community, providing vulnerable families with the tools, resources, and support needed to transform their lives,” said Raftery.

Raftery also offered praise for honoree Marcia Hazan: “Marcia played an important role in shaping many new JFS social justice initiatives that have created lasting change in the San Diego community,” she explained.

Hazan served on JFS’s Board of Directors for 18 years. She was instrumental in expanding JFS programs for Jewish single parents, survivors of domestic violence, and low-income older adults. She also served on the Behavioral Health Committee, supporting mental health awareness and combating the stigma attached with accessing treatment.

“During my time at JFS, I’ve seen every person at the agency serve our community with kindness, dignity and integrity,” Hazan said. “It’s rare to find an organization that has such a ‘can do’ spirit and goes the extra mile to improve the lives of others. I’m grateful to have been a part of it.”

Honoree HIAS is internationally recognized for its work resettling refugees, assisting displaced people from around the world reach safety, and rebuild their lives. JFS’s partnership with HIAS began in the 1980s and has since helped connect thousands of refugees to housing, employment, and education, and ensuring San Diego is a more humane, prosperous, and diverse place to live.

“Between protecting asylum seekers at our Southern Border with legal assistance and helping refugees replant their family trees in San Diego, the long-standing partnership between JFS and HIAS embodies our shared commitment to welcome the stranger and protect the refugee,” said Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS.

“JFS’s partnership with HIAS has certainly evolved over the last 40 years, but it’s clear the two organizations have greatly deepened each other’s impact,” Raftery said.

JFS Services
CEO Michael Hopkins shared that while many people first turn to JFS with a specific need – such as an older adult needing meals delivered – the agency offers so much more. That same senior may also need home care, or rides, a case manager or home repairs – JFS listens to each person’s unique situation and then offers solutions that will holistically change that person’s life for the better.

“One of the biggest problems for seniors is social isolation, which has been proven to be as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Add cognitive decline, sensory impairments, and then affordable housing and transportation, and it is easy to understand the many older adults struggle to live and age well,” Hopkins said. “With JFS’s help, older adults can feel connected to a community that cares about them, because all of our programs have reducing social isolation as a core component.”

Raftery also speaks highly of JFS’s older adult centers, where respite is offered to families with aging parents. The centers provide care, hot meals, and social opportunities.

JFS serves the Jewish and non-Jewish community with meals and meal delivery services, using its commercial kosher kitchen located on the JFS Joan & Irwin Jacobs Campus in Kearny Mesa where meals are prepared, and the Corner Market, where clients can “shop” for food using a points system that encourages healthy eating habits.

“Fifteen percent of San Diegans, or 460,000 people, are food insecure, uncertain if they have enough to meet the needs of family. This is typically due to insufficient funds or resources,” said Hopkins. “We know that when San Diego families have enough to eat, they can more easily afford other necessities, maintain their health and focus on long-term goals.”

“One of the innovative ways we provide nutrition assistance is through a food rescue program with Starbucks, where we pick up unpurchased food items between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. each day from 30-plus stores,” he continued. “Our Foodmobile program, which delivers home-cooked kosher meals, just recently expanded to delivering to 39 zip codes throughout San Diego, and the community has been pitching in to help us meet the additional delivery needs.”

Raftery encourages people to “find something that touches your heart, that speaks to you,” referring to the many opportunities to volunteer through JFS.

Jewish Connections
In addition to the organization’s work with the general senior population, JFS works to support Holocaust survivors in the San Diego area.

“Research [shows that there are] 500 Holocaust survivors in San Diego and we serve 150 of them who are struggling to make ends meet,” Hopkins said. “The Claims Conference (Jewish Material Claims Against Germany) assists with home care, case management services, and along with JFS, works with the Jewish Federation to assist Holocaust survivors. Survivors have trauma playing out as they age, as many carry a clear memory of concentration camps. We are sensitive to their needs.”

Many of JFS’s Jewish-specific programs also center around Jewish youth and Jewish parenting.

“Our Big Pals Program matches adults over 25 in a mentoring program with children from 6 through 16,” Hopkins said. “Often, a Big Pal has encouraged a Little Pal to have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, creating amazing role models for Jewish life and often becoming lifelong friends.”

Marie Raftery and her husband Dr. Robert Rubenstein also started the David Rubenstein Scholarship Program in 2009, annually granting between 15 to 20 scholarships of up to $5,000 each, encouraging students to treasure their Jewish heritage, reflecting on their Jewish values and better understanding the connection to the community.

It has been a major year for JFS and immigration issues, too.

“As an organization rooted in Jewish values and tradition, we are ever mindful that, like the millions of other refugees around the world, the Jewish people were once strangers, too. Through our work with the San Diego Rapid Response Network, the JFS Migrant Family Shelter – now in its 7th location – has served more than 22,000 asylum seekers since November 2018. These are all families with young children who would have otherwise been abandoned at bus stations in San Diego with no resources and no way to get to their final destinations.”

What’s Next
Lately, Hopkins said that JFS has been approaching the subject of mental illness – how to break down barriers surrounding mental health and how underserved, diverse groups interpret and respond to these issues – including the LGBTQ community, African Americans, Native Americans, and others.

JFS will also be hosting a second night Seder for Passover to the LGBTQ community and allies this year.

When asked about future goals for the agency, Hopkins shared insight into a new strategic planning initiative, Blue Print for Impact, that is currently in progress: “In the coming months, we will seek input from our leadership, staff, community partners, volunteers, and supporters to help decide how JFS will move forward. We want to take a deeper dive into the specific needs of the both the Jewish and general San Diego community and create a plan that will help us address emerging issues while maintaining our core services.”

JFS will host its annual Heart & Soul Gala at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine on Saturday, April 25 at 6 p.m. Partnering with Honorary Chairs Evelyn and Ernest Rady, Gala Chairs Scott Schindler, Marie Raftery and Dr. Robert Rubenstein will host an evening of dinner, dancing, and an auction encouraging awareness and philanthropy throughout the year. Underwriting packages are available and tickets are $360; both can be purchased at www.jfssd.org/gala, or by contacting danal@jfssd.org or (858) 637-3013.

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