Although the pandemic meant that Jewish Collaborative Services’ third annual meeting was virtual, over 70 community members came together on the evening of October 22nd to review the past year and anticipate the future for JCS. Even before the meeting, JCS staff went above and beyond to make Zoom registrants feel connected, by safely delivering an “appreciation bag” to local registrants with celebratory items, JCS-logoed face masks, and annual meeting information, prior to the meeting.
In her welcoming remarks, JCS Board Chair Marisa Garber acknowledged that we are living through fearful times – COVID-19, and the economic challenges so many of us are facing because of it. We worry about our children and their academic, social, and emotional health. We wonder when we’ll see our parents again. We fear that life won’t ever be the same as it was pre-pandemic.
“My job, as a spouse, a parent, a friend, a community member, and a lay leader is to focus on hope, not fear, Marisa said. “The work achieved by the incredible JCS staff – reaching out and helping community members in need even in these uncertain times of COVID-19, violence, and racial injustice – bolsters my hope”, said Marisa. “I choose hope, as I embrace changes I can’t control… I am convinced that we will emerge as a stronger community.”
Rabbi Emeritus Alvan Kaunfer, of Temple Emanu-El in Providence, gave the D’var Torah, which focused on the story of Noah’s ark and the divergent needs of the ark’s animals. “I have only the best things to say about the work of JCS and their staff and volunteers,” he said. “Noah became a model for those who care for people, with community and compassion.” JCS continues Noah’s tradition by tirelessly meeting people’s needs compassionately, whether for counseling, food insecurities, adoptions, etc. “I have worked with members of the staff. They are consummate professionals; they are discreet and act with genuine care and professionalism… for each and every need… like Noah.”
The President and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island Adam Greenman and Alliance Board Chair Jamie Pious briefly spoke. “During crises”, said Greenman, “you learn who your supporters and friends are. There is no more professional and compassionate team than at JCS, as we navigate the murky waters of COVID-19,” said Greenman. “I am grateful for all JCS does and for its partnership with the Alliance.”
“With JCS, the Alliance has directly impacted the lives of more than 1,000 people in the community. Through our combined efforts, the Kosher Food Pantry has been fully restocked four times; no one was left behind … and seniors visiting meal sites continue to get what they need,” said Pious.
Marketing & Communications Manager Jessica Murphy prepared an informative and spirited video that was moderated by Garber and President and CEO Erin Minior. With kindness and inclusiveness, JCS has served the Jewish community and the community at large, serving 4,000 individuals through 14 diverse programs. The Past Present Future campaign exceeded its $4 million goal and raised $5.3 million. Other key engagements include:
- More than 2,100 Lifeline clients received help, including 348 individuals being transported to a hospital for medical care;
- An excess of 600 hours of respite care was provided through our Partners in Care Program;
- 11,000 meals were prepared and delivered to 204 clients through our Kosher Nutrition Program;
- 6,000 bags of nutritious food were distributed to clients;
- Our Kesher Program witnessed a 25 percent increase in outreach at synagogues, by engaging with 337 congregants. The Kesher workers coordinated and held nine informational workshops since March 2020 and an excess of 600 hours of respite care, through our Partners in Care Program;
- The Counseling Center provided more than 1,600 counseling sessions, 30 percent of them via telehealth;
- Through the Rhode Island Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund, JCS provided 580 individuals with essential food and hygiene products; and
- Tamarisk taught more than 60 residents how to use Zoom to keep them in touch with their families.
“We are capable of much more than we thought. I’m grateful to our Board of Directors, our staff, and our volunteers,” said Erin, after explaining how JCS staff are staying safe while back at work – half the staff works from home each week, and hallways are one-way only. Marisa added, “Our story does not begin or end with the pandemic. We have a rich history from two founding agencies – Jewish Seniors Agency and Jewish Family Service – serving Rhode Island for more than 130 years. We will continue to adapt and serve; we will continue to fulfill our mission and have a stronger future.”
Board Treasurer Deborah Mandell summarized the income and expenses of JCS, Tamarisk, and Shalom Apartments, and identified COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government. JCS also hired a new Chief Financial Officer, Renee St. John, in December 2019 and reassigned certain duties within the finance department.
Governance Committee Mindy Stone gave the nominating report; the names of current board members are listed here; Minna Ellison, Richard Licht, Mindy Stone and Marisa Garber were elected as secretary, treasurer, vice-chair and chair, respectively.
In the video’s moving closing minutes, Erin spoke of social justice and showed two photos: One of her parents’ 1952 wedding; the other of her son and daughter-in-law’s 2019 wedding. Her parents’ mixed marriage (Erin’s Orthodox Jewish father married a Catholic woman) led to a nine-year rift when Erin’s paternal grandparents chose faith over family until a medical crisis reunited them. “I can’t imagine the pain and heartbreak my father must have experienced,” she said tearfully. Of her son’s marriage to a black woman, she said, “I can’t wait to become a safta (grandmother)… though I worry about discrimination and the hatred my son and his family will face. My son’s mother-in-law, Sylvia, lives with it.”
Erin added, “Hatred is wrong; we’ve all witnessed injustice in our lifetimes, and some of us have lost family members, and still it continues. Healing is possible”, she said, and encouraged everyone to:
- Vote and bring others to the polls who might lack transportation;
- Practice what you preach and examine your habits and beliefs;
- Speak out and speak up – become active in spreading information rather than disinformation; and
- Express your views and beliefs to political officials, and be prepared to speak up and lead by example.
She also vowed to bring greater diversity to the JCS board – to search for and nominate board members from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. JCS’ first Zoom annual meeting – informative, efficient, and evocative – lasted 49 minutes, start to finish.