IN THE NEWS: AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers to aid survivors

Randall P. Lieberman, Staff Writer


Jul 7, 2014

Thanks to a historic partnership between the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the Corporation for National & Community Service and the Association of Jewish Family and Children's Agencies, AmeriCorps VISTA members will be placed in Jewish communities across the country to work with Holocaust survivors.

AmeriCorps VISTAs are one-year, full-time volunteers specially trained and committed to serve populations in need. AmeriCorps VISTA members will join Jewish organizations to increase their capacity to serve Holocaust survivors in Florida, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and New York.

"This national partnership will impact the immediate and pressing need to increase our capacity to serve more Holocaust survivors now and in the future," said Mark Wilf, vice chair of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America, and chair of the Jewish Federations' effort to address the needs of Holocaust survivors. "In partnership with the AmeriCorps VISTA program we will be able to expand and personalize services to address the specific needs of Holocaust survivors."

With the program aiming to begin in the fall, local agencies involved in the program are currently recruiting volunteers. Recruitment is already underway at Alpert Jewish Family & Children's Services of Palm Beach County (North Palm Beach County); Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services (South Palm Beach County); Jewish Family Service of Broward County (Broward County); and Jewish Community Services of South Florida (Miami-Dade County). Applicants are encouraged to inquire directly with the agencies.

JFNA and family service agencies have been working closely with Congress and the Obama Administration to develop and implement programs aimed at improving the lives of Holocaust survivors living in poverty.

JFNA launched a campaign led by Wilf to address the needs of Holocaust survivors and bridge budget shortfalls in existing programs. Wilf, the renowned philanthropist and owner/president of the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings, is a longtime supporter of the Jewish community. His family is among the largest financial supporters of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem.

Of the approximately 113,000 Holocaust survivors currently in the United States, it is estimated that about a quarter are living at or below the federal poverty line, placing them at risk of isolation and potentially traumatic institutionalization. In order to remain in their homes and communities, Holocaust survivors need home health care, assistance with transportation, help paying medical and dental bills, and rental assistance or affordable housing.

Administrators at the local social service agencies that serve Holocaust survivors were excited about the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

Sylvia Goldsmith, executive vice president/chief operating officer of Jewish Community Services of South Florida, stated: "JCS has been chosen to identify and hire a VISTA volunteer who will help to develop pro bono dental services for needy Holocaust survivors in our community. The volunteer will receive a stipend for a year of service, with the goal of increasing our outreach to dentists as well as our capacity to expand dental services for this unique population. JCS currently provides an array of services to more than 500 local survivors, and this effort will culminate in a more expansive and comprehensive dental assistance program."

Kenneth Moskowitz, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of Broward County, stated: "JFS of Broward is honored to be awarded the opportunity to work with AmeriCorps VISTA in helping our agency elevate awareness of our Holocaust Survivor Assistance program. We are looking forward to working with the VISTA volunteer in establishing a new volunteer group of 'Second Generation Survivors' as well as cultivating relationships with other resources in the Jewish community to further assist our survivors."

Danielle Hartman, president and CEO of Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services, stated: "With one of the largest populations of Holocaust survivors, we look forward to our VISTA joining us. Being part of this program will further our work to enable survivors to live comfortably at home with security and dignity as their needs increase with advancing age and frailty. Working with existing staff, our VISTA will help expand, strengthen and build the capacity of our partnerships and networks to best connect local survivors with available government programs and other services including the wide array offered at JFS."

For more information about the AmeriCorps VISTA program, or to apply to be a volunteer, call the Alpert Jewish Family & Children's Services of Palm Beach County at 561-684-1991; Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services at 561-852-3333; Jewish Family Service of Broward County at 954-370-2140 or Jewish Community Services of South Florida at 305-899-1587

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