As Jewish Family & Children’s Service prepares to mark its 75th anniversary, Aryeh Sherman is reflecting on how far the social service agency has come and where it’s going.
For Sherman, the JF&CS president and CEO for the past 13 years, this is a good time to do both. Not only does this week mark a milestone anniversary for the agency, but next June will be the completion date for its five-year plan.
“We have to recognize it was a different time [when the strategic plan was drafted] and we had some good foresight to deal with what was coming down the line,” Sherman said in an interview with the Chronicle.
The five-year plan addressed five strategic goals:
• Reducing hunger in the community;
• Improving workforce diversity;
• Safe and healthy living for the elderly;
• A developed continuum of care for families; and
• Addressing employment needs in the community.
As the June 30 completion date for the plan approaches, Sherman is pleased with the progress JF&CS has made on all fronts, but he noted challenges lay ahead.
“Our mission stays the same, to improve the quality of life of the Jewish community through employment and community services,” he said. “What has changed is the number of people we serve.”
That number has doubled, in fact, climbing from approximately 4,000 five years ago to 8,223-plus today.
JF&CS will mark its 75th year, Saturday, Nov. 17, with a “Lifecycles & Laughtracks” gala at Stage AE on the North Shore. Some 250 guests are expected to attend. The evening will feature five-time Emmy Award winner comedian Alan Zweibel, who wrote for “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and the original “Saturday Night Live.” Barbara and Herb Shear are the honorary chairs and Carolyn and Marc Mendelson are the gala chairs.
Sherman attributed much of the success these past five years to the agency’s work on the hunger issue, which led to the establishment of a larger, more diverse Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry on Hazelwood Avenue in Greenfield.
The hunger issue, Sherman said, has led to a better awareness of other social issues in the community.
“I think if you look five years ago and today there’s a much higher understanding and awareness of these issues because we focused on the issue of hunger, which is a pretty straightforward thing; you can understand that,” he said.
Hunger, he noted, is “really part of a bigger picture of poverty and of stresses that people in our community are facing. Because typically associated with that are low-paying or no jobs, health issues, long-term and chronic disabilities, stresses in the family related to emotional issues or to other factors, housing concerns … all these things tie in together.”
He noted that one reason the Jewish community has been “generous” in addressing these issues is where so many Jews live — in a diverse urban neighborhood.
“One of the key strengths of our Jewish community is really how concerned everybody at every economic level is for their fellow community members,” he said. “I think part of it is because in Pittsburgh you have a high concentration of Jews living in the Squirrel Hill area. I came from Philadelphia, so the first thing that struck me was we have the lowest income and highest income people living within a few blocks of one another, so there is some level of awareness of that and I think it causes people to understand the issues of their neighbors better.”
Sherman also addressed how JF&CS has addressed the other goals of the plan.
On workforce diversity, Pittsburgh is one of the least diverse populations of cities of its size in the country, he said, which means that even during a recession there are good jobs that go vacant for lack of “qualified applicants.”
JF&CS established a welcome center — a one-stop shop for international newcomers to seek services they need to settle here. The job has since been taken over by Vibrant Pittsburgh.
They also developed SOS Pittsburgh, based on a model supported by Edgar and Sandy Snyder in the former Soviet Union, which caters to families in one-time need of assistance to maintain their own self-sufficiency.
Turning to the elderly, Sherman pointed to AgeWell Pittsburgh, a one-stop resource linking older adults, their families, friends and caregivers to solutions for issues related to aging, as a signature achievement. AgeWell, which Sherman noted is a communitywide collaboration of many Jewish Pittsburgh agencies, is a response to the rising cost of nursing home care.
“If you can keep them in their homes,” he said, “they can participate in society more and have a healthier life.”
Addressing the continuum of care for clients, he said JF&CS is trying to “break down walls” between its departments and assess the total realm of an individual’s needs when he or she first contacts JF&CS.
Finally, in the area of employment needs, JF&CS is addressing needs of individuals trying to be “re-employed” in the workforce.
They offer career counselors to help clients envision new job prospects and have employed new programs such as Maturity Works — a career job placement geared to the needs of low-income workers aged 45 and older.
Services have changed over the years at JF&CS as the needs of the community have changed.
Going forward, Sherman emphasized that ever-greater fundraising as well as collaboration between service organizations throughout Greater Pittsburgh will be essential to meet the needs of the community.
He noted that fundraising covers 13 to 15 percent of its revenue sources. He personally would like to see that grow to 20 percent.
As for collaboration, no single organization can meet the needs of its community alone, Sherman explained, noting that government assistance will be harder to come by in the future.
“Collaboration is the name of the game entirely,” Sherman said. “Everything we do is based on collaboration.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)