JCS’ mission is clear: To sustain, nurture and strengthen the well-being of seniors, adults, children, and families and to ensure access to a full continuum of care through the life cycle, within the framework of Jewish tradition and values. However, fulfilling that mission can be especially challenging in uncertain times. COVID has certainly brought us uncertain times.
“We needed to plan not knowing what the future would hold; we had to be prepared to address anything that came our way,” said JCS President and Chief Executive Officer Erin Minior. Having participated last year in a scenario planning exercise with the Network of Jewish Human Services Agencies, the national umbrella organization to which JCS belongs, Minior wanted to see how JCS could execute those ideas locally.
A Scenario Planning Advisory Committee, comprised of four senior staff members and three board members, worked to identify the COVID-related variables that they believed could impact JCS’ work, and then evaluate how we could best pivot to address such variables. Although the group identified dozens of such problems, they could, said Minor, all be boiled down to two key overarching themes: Clients’ social isolation and financial instability. A smaller group of four staff and one board member, addressed specific concerns at Tamarisk and Shalom Apartments.
Staff members were asked to determine the impact of variables on their respective program, the programmatic or operational changes that would be needed and the budget impact of such recommended changes. Those data were given to the Scenario Planning Advisory Committee, which then presented recommendations to the JCS Board of Directors for further action, as appropriate.
Even before these committees’ recommendations were evaluated by the Board of Directors, JCS staff were addressing these issues. Check-in phone calls to clients and support groups for both clients and staff have helped address the social isolation felt by clients and staff, who are understandably stressed, said Minior. “We’ve identified some opportunities to consider cross-training to increase participation in group activities at Tamarisk and to work across different facilities through closed circuit television (CCTV) so that everyone is participating in the same program simultaneously,” said Minior. “We’re also learning from other resources in the community to identify best practices.”
Changes in technology were essential to continue to provide certain services to clients – such as counseling – and to decrease seniors’ sense of isolation and increase their engagement. For example, CCTV for residents and staff of Shalom Apartments and Tamarisk would enable staff to communicate with residents on COVID concerns as well as to allow residents to remotely access financial literacy classes, support groups, coffee hours, etc. “While our staff had laptops with cameras to hold telehealth counseling sessions with clients, some clients were unable to participate, as they had no Wi-Fi connections at home or their school-aged children needed the family computer for remote learning.
Although the worst of COVID may be behind us, the pandemic has changed some things permanently. “Zoom board and annual meetings are so much more efficient,” said Minior. “As an agency, the concept of remote working is enticing for some positions and can be an attractive factor in employee recruitment.”
Earlier this year, staff members who provide community services began meeting to evaluate JCS as a whole to assess how the agency’s work can be more collaborative and more effective. “While these ‘behind-the-scenes’ initiatives aren’t flashy or exciting, I believe the work of the advisory committees and the staff work will result in improved and expanded services,” said Minior.
Our goal, added Minior, is to build additional flexibility into our system, so that individuals in need might be able to receive financial support from a specific JCS program more than once each year. “We at JCS are not going to solve the greater problem of poverty, but we do hope that these and other recommendations will allow the agency to provide support in a more timely and responsive fashion.”