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AL Benarroch, Exec Director of JCFS: We've Adapted our Way of Delivering Services so that our clients' needs could be met

by Rhonda Spivak, August 25, 2020

 

Al Benarroch, Executive Director of Jewish Child and Family Service (JCFS) says that since the coronavirus pandemic began, "We have adapted our way of delivering services so that our clients' needs could be met, and we'll continue to do so." He added that " We also have been able to maintain a stable workforce, in that we only had to lay off only a part-time staff person and some casual positions like support workers and instructors." 

 

"In the first month and a half of the pandemic, we saw an increase of 15-20 new clients in our seniors programming.  Our mental health clientele were anxious as were seniors about increasing isolation, and access to services and supports (For example, people were anxious about how they were going to get groceries and medications.)" 

 

Regarding counselling, Benarroch notes that in the first couple months of the pandemic people were cautious about having counselling sessions online, but in late May and June, as people started to settle into the Covid-19 reality, they became more open to having counselling sessions online, through Zoom, Facetime, as well as over the phone. "We're still not up to the volume we had before the pandemic hit," Benarroch adds.

 

Benarroch points out that JCFS did one session via Zoom for Gray Academy on parenting through the pandemic, as well as one session for BB Camp and Camp Massad on dealing with the loss of not going to overnight camp and how to program for the summer.

 

"Since the pandemic began, our older adult services staff have found that they are making more phone calls during the day. They have been busier during the day because they have been getting a hold of more people during the day since people are more available as they are home. We've been trying to ensure that our clientele have social connections and are having their basic needs met. Workers are checking in at a minimum once a week. They assess a person's mood and what their needs are, such as getting food and medicine. We also have volunteers reaching out," Benarroch says 

 

He adds that now JCFS is slowly having some outdoor visits with clients. "We have been allowing staff and some core volunteers to conduct socially distanced safe outdoor visits. We don't require wearing masks for outdoor visits. " Benarroch also explains that there are some socially distanced indoor visits taking place with the wearing of masks. "Indoor visits occur where an urgent matter has arisen, where someone, such as an addiction client, is in a real crisis."

 

Benarroch is concerned about the way people who have lost a loved one are grieving in an unnatural way due to the pandemic which prevents the normal funeral and shiva process. "We'll explore having our bereavement group start up in the fall and do it online," he states. He adds that JCFS will also offer newcomer groups online. We need to still give new immigrants the opportunity to learn about our health system, and banking, wills and estates and purchasing  a new home . "We've already scheduled a 'Preparing for Winter' session via Zoom for newcomers on August 19”, Benarroch points out, adding that "we'll do these sessions online for as long as  necessary, since the pandemic could go on for a long time.” Benarroch emphasizes however, that "human social contact is a basic need" and "this type of online contact isn't natural."

 

During the pandemic, JCFS received a grant of $10,000 from the Azrieli Foundation that was used for food and basic support for the elderly, including Holocaust survivors. JCFS also received funds form the United Way, half of which went towards food support for seniors and the other half is going towards an iPad lending library. "We purchased ten iPads that will be lent out to isolated seniors and we'll help them learn how to use the devices. A JCFS social worker will oversee the implementation of the iPad lending library.  The Federation has funded a senior concierge position to increase community engagement of seniors. The senior concierge position, whose job is to do outreach to seniors and help connect them to community programming, is being housed at and overseen by JCFS.  This program also has some government funding to purchase additional iPads for lending out to seniors. The two social workers will work together on the implementation of the lending library," Benarroch explains, adding that the iPads will be lent out for up to 3-4 months at a time.

 

JCFS also received $12,000 from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba (without the need to apply for these funds) during the pandemic which Benarroch indicated went towards food delivery. "We brought in another support worker to do grocery pickups and deliveries," Benarroch notes. He explains that JCFS also put together and delivered "comfort kits to seniors that we identified as most isolated. A comfort kit contained items sealed in a Ziplock bag such as a deck of cards, cookies, tea, crossword puzzled, coloring materials, and funny Jewish jokes. Gray Academy and Brock-Corydon students made nice messages and cards.  We also included a personal card which I signed."  Benarroch indicates that JCFS received very good feedback from clients who received these "comfort kits.  "People felt like they were cared for, that they weren't alone. It came at a time when they were particularly down, but they felt they weren't being forgotten.  This brought them great comfort," Benarroch says.

 

Regarding requests for financial aid, Benarroch says "I have not seen a huge uptick in requests for financial aid, where someone says, for example that I lost my job and a need money to pay my rent. But we'll see if that changes. " 

 

Regarding JCFS expenses, Benarroch says that during the pandemic "we’ve also had some savings as a result of the pandemic.  For example, we're not reimbursing staff for mileage, which is usually a big expense, so we've been able to save money that way."

 

Benarroch notes with pride that the JCFS has a large endowment fund at the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba. In 2011, the endowment fund was $350,000. After our Century of Caring Gala in 2012, the endowment was brought up to $1.2 million. Since taking over as executive director in 2014, the endowment has steadily grown.  "This past March our endowment fund was just shy of  $3.2 million, which helps stabilize our revenue stream. It means that we'll receive between $ 35,000 to$ 42,000 a year in revenue for each million dollars in the endowment fund." 

 

Benarroch emphasizes that JCFS has great lay leadership, "that is very responsible with every penny we spend."

 

Regarding the need for extra office space, "it's still a significant strategic priority, " but "we've realized that working virtually and remotely can be an effective, albeit not an ideal way to do our work."

 

Benarroch also points out that "We're still focused on opening a transitional housing facility for addictions and mental health. We're looking at a "Sober Living" model for the facility.  This still remains a strategic priority and we’ll continue to plan for it. We'll look at what kind of services will be delivered there? What are the costs, and to try to move forward on this".

Note: Below is an  analysis of JCFS caseload numbers in some specific JCFS program areas.  February 28 was used as a pre-Covid baseline date, and July 31 as a date for relative comparison.  The rise in cases in Addictions, Counselling, and Older Adult Services are disproportionately higher than the same time period last year.  

Program Area

At Feb. 28/20

At Jul 31/20

Difference

Addiction Supports

35

41

+6

Aging Mental Health

51

53

+2

Counselling

128

147

+19

Holocaust

115

119

+4

Mental Health

59

58

-1

Older Adult Services

120

140

+20

TOTALS

508

558

+50

 
 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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