40th Anniversary Milestones

JFS 40th Anniversary - Organizational Milestones

JFS was created in 1979 to provide counseling services to our local community, which were initially offered by a part time social worker from a small storefront office. For the next forty years, JFS has continued to expand, offering a wide variety of services to our community. Here is a list of some of our major milestones:

JFS Becomes the first beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. Counseling services were initially offered by a part time social worker from a small storefront office on Federal Highway in Boca Raton. Eventually, offices moved to Spanish River Blvd. before relocating to the current campus in 1991. 

Spencer Gellert, the first Executive Director of the agency remembers, "I was very fortunate to work with incredible volunteers who fiercely believed in the work of the agency.  Since there was little funding available to fully provide the programs we needed, individuals and couples on the board generously funded a number of programs.  It was an exciting time for all of the professionals at JFS to help develop the needed services for the rapidly growing community in south Palm Beach County."

The original committee formed to govern JFS included Karola Epstein (z'l), Gladys Weinshank and Berenice Shankerman (z'l) who was named the first President of JFS.  Berenice was a quite women who was 100% supportive of the agency's mission.  She had been resettled in the USA by HIAS, and never forgot the help she received to start her new life in this country. 

Initially funded with support from Florence and Ted Baumritter, a Hebrew Free Loan Society (HFLS) was created to make interest free loans to Jewish residents of south Palm Beach County who are in need of temporary assistance. Today the HFLS continues to make loans for a variety of needs from helping repay student loans, buy or fix a car, assist with bar/bat mitzvah's, etc. 

JFS is renamed Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service with a gift from Norman Rales.  Having grown up in the Hebrew Orphan's Asylum (HOA), Norman Rales never forgot the importance of helping those less fortuante.  A man who shied away from recognition, Norman took great pleasure in making gifts in honor of his beloved family and friends.

Recognizing the importance of helping to resettle the Russians leaving after Gorbachev allowed residents to leave communism and who were being persecuted, graduates of the Wexner Program approached the Federation about starting a program locally.  Susan and Barry Podolsky, and the other members of the Wexner group agreed to help and JFS would run the program.  The goal of the program was to keep families united and to make sure they could obtain gainful employment.  Partnering with HIAS, our community absorbed families who were waiting in Rome, Italy for resettlement.  Initially we brought over 2 families, eventually resettling 160 families between 1989-1996.  "We resettled Jewish refugees who left their homes, families and everything familiar, and brought them to a strange place with strange customs.  They came with hope and with a passion to make this a better life for their children." - Susan Podolsky

Begins hosting the "Social Service Luncheon" to provide professional development opportunities to JFS staff and other non-profit professionals in the community. 

Gerry Golden provides the funds to start the Rose Golden Indigent Care Fund for Jewish residents of south Palm Beach County experiencing financial hardship.  The fund was created in memory of his mother, Rose (z'l).

Recognizing that many seniors in our community where lonely and had no family to host them, Larry Philips (z'l) and Ellen Sarnoff (z'l) funded an annual Thanksgiving Banquet held on the Federation campus. The program, which feeds over 700 people with the help of 300 volunteers, has continued for the past 25 years and is a true partnership for seniors with no place to go to celebrate the holiday. Today this annual event is funded by Etta and Raymond Zimmerman and Edith and Martin (z'l) Stein.

Jill and Cliff Viner Establish the Compassionate Care Fund to assist children up to 18 years old in crisis with emergency financial assistance.

The "Parents Place" is established which enhanced therapy for children, young adults and their families providing a safe haven for educational workshops and play therapy.  Norman Rales donates start up funds for this effort.

Recognizing the many hungry families living in our community, JFS opens a food pantry on the Federation campus feeding 32 families. 

Recognizing the imporance of providing a camp experience to disadvantaged children, Jill and Cliff Viner start "Camp Breakaway" which lasted 13 years and sent over 5,000 children to camp. Camp Breakaway provides children with an opportunity for personal growth and a measure of independence while enabling parents who are struggling wiht lots of issues both financially and emotionally to have a much needed break.

Recognizing the challenges faced by the LGBTQ community locally, Shirley Gould (z'l) spearheads the first Gay & Lesbian Task Force.  Shirley had a son who was gay and knew firsthand his struggles.  She wanted to make sure no other person in similiar situations would have the same struggles so she established an endowment fund to provide support so that JFS could continue to help those in the LGBTQ community forever. 

The Telephone Reassurance program is renamed for Jack Alexander. The telephone reassurance program provides weekly wellness checks to homebound seniors. Often the telephone reassurance calls are one of the few calls these lonely seniors receive all week, bringing a smile to their face and ensuring they can remain safely at home. This program continues today. The caller has an opportunity to assess the mood or need of the person being called and relay pertinent information when warranted. Betty Wohlgemuth, Telephone Reassurance volunteer says "Having called our clients for almost 20 years it has given me a great deal of satisfaction to know that I have been making a small positive difference in someone's life. So many of these people have shared with me how important the calls are to them, having helped them through a difficult period in their lives, or to just know that someone really does care about them. It emphasizes so me how fortunate I am to be able to be able to think about others and to reach out weekly to someone who appreciates what Jewish Family Services can do for them."

The Friendly Visitor Program helps relieve the loneliness that can plague the elderly in our community by providing weekly personal visits by a corps of dedicated volunteers. From a simple act of selfless compassion, strong bonds of friendship and trust grow between recipients and their designated and trained volunteer visitors.

The Kibbitz and Ride program is started. Recognizing how difficult it can be when seniors give up the keys to their cars for safety, Madeline Pargh (z'l) encouraged JFS to start a program to use volunteers to drive senior clients to shopping and doctor appointments. This program still is in existing today and many of our seniors have developed special relationships with their volunteer drivers.

JFS establishes the "Big Pal/Little Pal" program with the help of Christina and Jeff (z'l) Wilson. This program still continues as the "Community Mentoring Program" and is funded with a generous donation from the United Way of Palm Beach County and the Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County. The program matches adult volunteer mentors with individual children from single parent home or with those who live with relatives other than their parents and are in need of a supportive, friendly one-to-one relationship. Many of the children in the program have experienced loss or rejection, leaving them vulnerable to extraordinarily stressful environments and at risk for behavioral problems.

After the succesful negotation by the Claims Conference for reparations from the German Government, JFS establishes the "Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program." This program continues to this day and provides case management, financial assistance, home care and socialization for over 400 local Holocaust Survivors. Cafe Europa's started in 2005 and are held each June and December. The December dinner is sponsored by Jill Viner and annually brings 500 Holocaust Survivors together for an afternoon of joy and remembrance.

Recognizing that families need help managing the care of their aging parents, particularly when adult children don't live close by, Wendy Walin helps to create the CARELINK - geriatric case management program which continues to this day. Often case managers become surrogate children to the seniors they assist, by helping them to connect to services and helping to age in place where they feel most comfortable.

JFS and Federation sign the "Community Separation Agreement" and JFS becomes an independent 501(c)(3)

With the support of Nancy & Marvin Schiller, and a small group of dedicated donors, JFS implements the "Welcome Home Program". The goal was and still remains to assist those living with persistent mental illness to improve their life skills, social skills and employment skills. The Schiller's were inspired to create the Welcome Home Program after living through the experience of having their daughter be diagnosed with schizophrenia and spending many years learning how to hekp their daughter and how to deal with her illness as a family. When asked how they envisioned the program, the Schiller's said, "Very often people living with mental illness are withdrawn from society. They have low self-esteem and their medication may cause them to lose some of their sparkle. I envision an environment where they can come and relax, make friends with peers and build social relationships so they can live their lives to their fullest potential."

JFS Celebrates 25 Years of serving the community at the "Snow Ball Gala" Chaired by Jill and Cliff Viner.

JFS won the Area Agency on Aging's Outstanding Provider Award for dedication and excellence in serving seniors during Hurricane Wilma. JFS continues to be an integral part of Hurricane Response both pre-and post major weather events.

The results from the area’s first major Jewish population study in 10 years, funded by the Federation, confirms that South Palm Beach County has the oldest Jewish residents in the country. 62% are over 65, and 40% are over 75. Further, 81% of low-income Jews in South Palm Beach County are 65 and older.

With a pilot grant from Hands on Tzedakah (HOT), JFS hires a part-time bi-lingual social worker to provide services at the Caridad Center in Boynton Beach. This program last until 2013 when the Caridad Center is able to hire their own full time bi-lingual social worker.

In 2005 a demographic study showed a high concentration of seniors living in Delray on fixed incomes, many who were already receiving services from JFS. It was determined at this time that a community center should be built to offer even greater services to this population. In 2009, after a grant from the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County and several local donors, the ground breaking of the community center facility took place. One year later, the Shirley and Barton Weisman Delray Community Center was opened and named with a generous gift from Shirley and Bart Weisman. The center offers many classes, social interaction activities, lectures, entertainment, etc. None of this was previously conveniently available to the seniors in the area. The center is now a focal point for seniors in the area. "This center is a life saver. I am now living my life, not just existing." This sums up the critical need that this center fulfills. As Bart Weisman stated, "my only regret is that they didn't plan for a second floor." That is how great a need there was for this center and how greatly utilized it is. The Center has close to 1500 members and now uses three Rales Rides buses to bring people to the Center.

In memory of their parents, Diane and Larry Feldman renamed the Diamond Club the "Feldman Family Diamond Club" and have since added the "Feldman Family Adventure Club" Both clubs are geared to those 75 years young and older, and provide a stimulating environment through socialization, trips, speakers and sense of belonging for all. Sandy Klein and her husband were inspired to start the Diamond Club because one of their parents was aging and needed something to fill their time. The program began in 1979 at Temple Emeth with 15 regular participants. The Klein's asked JFS to get involved the following year. Since then, the Clubs have blossomed with over 760 members who enjoy spending time together each week as well as special celebrations like the annual “Senior Prom.”

The JFS food pantry was moved off campus to a new 2600 sq. ft. facility located at 430 S. Congress Avenue and was named the “Jacobson Family Food Pantry at JFS” with a generous gift from Anne and Norman Jacobson. The pantry provides bi-monthly food deliveries to over 500 households needing help with one of life’s most basic necessities. In 2018, in recognition of their parents long standing support of the food pantry the Estate of Madeline and Eugene Pargh (z'l) leave an endowment to JFS which names the "Pargh Family Grocery" within the pantry.

At the annual Gala it is anounced that the Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation made a generous $2.4 million gift to establish the “Center for Families and Children” creating four new programs at the agency geared to helping JFS raise its profile in serving families and children. Those programs include Career and Employment Services, Domestic Abuse Education and Action; Community Outreach and Financial Assistance for Summer Camp and School Readiness, and special needs programming. This new Center allows JFS to significantly expand their services to families and children in our community.

JFS renames the agency to include Norman Rales' (z'l) name to honor of his legacy of financial and personal support for the agency, and his commitment and passion for helping those less fortunate. The patriarch of the Rales family, Norman passed away in March of 2012. The agency is now called Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services. Josh Rales, one of Norman and Ruth's four sons, attends the ribbon cutting ceremony unveiling the new name.

As the population of south Palm Beach County continues to age, the need for a local Meals on Wheels Program is met with a start up grant from the Federation and in partnership with the Jewish Association for Residential Care (JARC). The program continues to grow and in 2018 it is named the "Adele Loeb and Les Nackman Meals on Wheels Program."

JFS receives a 4-Star Charity Navigator rating putting JFS in a very select group of high performing charities. JFS continues to maintain this coveted status as of today.

JFS is recognized by the Sun Sentinel as a “Top Place to Work” and is recognized as the 10th best place to work in the small employer category. In June the agency started their “Rales Rides” bus service to the Weisman Delray Community Center as a result of a New Freedoms Grant.

JFS at Home - As part of the Board of Director’s strategic planning process dealing with planning for the future needs of seniors living in our community, the JFS board approved the creation of a separate entity to be known as “JFS at Home” which would provide companion and homecare services to seniors living in our community. In April, JFS at Home received its license to operate in Palm Beach County from the Agency on Healthcare Administration and officially opened its doors for business in May.

Volunteer Department Renamed “The Belford Family Volunteer Department”

As a result of our continued growth, JFS rents additional space on the Federation campus and opens a state of the art training facility for the Career and Employment Services Program and the Senior Services Programs.

JFS Receives single largest one time gift in agency history from the Estate of Bernard Sherman (z'l)($2.3M). Muriel Chandler Sherman, Bernard's widow, stated “It was important for me to have Bernie’s memory honored in a way that has meaning for future generations. With the creation of the 'Bernard Sherman Program to Enhance Jewish Identity' we can help ensure the continuity of the Jewish people. Bernie would have been proud to do that.”

JFS CARES Program Launches to serve Jewish families with loved ones with SUDs (2018)

Updated Jewish Demographic Study released

40th Anniversary of JFS! Sons of Norman Rales to be presented with Rales Humanitarian Award at the Annual Gala (2019)

To make a donation, visit https://ralesjfs.org/donate and choose "40th Anniversary Fund" from the drop-down list.

Learn about the different special events JFS has designated to be part of the celebration by clicking HERE.

For other questions about Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services 40th Anniversary celebration, please call 561-852-3333 or email info@ralesjfs.org.

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