Memphis Jewish Federation’s Senior Services Collaborative Finds Innovative Ways to Make an Impact
By Gila Golder
Under the leadership of its new chair, Mary Elizabeth Jones, the community-wide Senior Services Collaborative (SSC) convened by Memphis Jewish Federation is making a deep impact, engaging seniors through multiple channels to fulfill its mission of ensuring that seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are cared for, connected, and engaged, announced Laura Linder, President and CEO of Jewish Community Partners, which operates Federation.
The SSC was formed in November 2015 in the wake of Federation’s 2014-2015 Community Needs Assessment Study, which identified the challenge of delivering accessible and meaningful programming to seniors. The committee is comprised of representatives from all agencies interfacing with Jewish seniors, congregations, retired Jewish senior professionals, and community volunteers passionate about senior services.
Since its inception, the SSC has made significant progress not only in expanding the menu of programs and services available to seniors, but also in ensuring that seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are aware of the programming that exists.
In order to create a more efficient process for seniors to find this information, the Senior Services Collaborative designed, printed, and distributed a Senior Services Directory, a large-print, glossy quad-fold brochure with a comprehensive listing of senior services provided by the Memphis Jewish community, broken down into categories such as Vital Needs, Companionship, Transportation, and Wellness. The SSC also made this information available in digital form at www.memphisjewishseniors.org.
The printed brochure and website were finalized in early 2017, with brochures mailed directly to seniors’ homes. Extra copies of the brochure were also made available at the JCP office, at our congregations and local agencies serving Jewish seniors, and at senior independent living and assisted living facilities, geriatric medical offices, and hospitals.
Incredibly, in under two years, the SSC’s supply of 3,000 copies of the brochure has already been depleted. Agencies stocking the brochure report that it is an invaluable resource for seniors and caregivers as a central source of information about the robust senior programming available throughout the Memphis Jewish community. In order to continue meeting this need, Federation will reprint an updated version of the brochure that reflects new senior services and program offerings at our agencies and congregations.
Sponsorships are available for this project.
Another major success of the SSC has been the hiring of a dedicated, roving Jewish Activities Coordinator, Hilly Safier, to expand seniors’ access to Jewish engagement opportunities. Now in her second year, Hilly has been able to reach Jewish seniors throughout the community, including those who live in senior facilities or are homebound.
Many seniors in these groups who do not have congregational affiliations or family connections had been previously isolated from Jewish engagement opportunities. Hilly’s work in organizing Jewish engagement programs at facilities, delivering Shabbat and holiday themed packages, and spending one on one time with these seniors has made a significant impact. One senior remarked, during Hilly’s visit to her home during Hanukkah 2018, “It’s so nice that someone remembers.”
During year 2, Hilly has made marked progress in building relationships with staff at senior facilities, leading to opportunities for more successful partnerships. In a marked change from last year, the activities director at one facility has been actively involved in the holiday programs planned by Hilly, helping to recruit Jewish residents for the programs and even providing holiday-themed food. An activities director at another facility commented, “Seeing the smiles on [residents’] faces and knowing how very important this is to them makes this program crucial for us to maintain. I have always found the program to be excellent and the volunteers to be a joy to meet and work with.”
This program is funded by a Fedovation grant from Federation and has included multiple community collaborations. The Rosh Hashanah packages Hilly delivered to seniors this year were donated by Baron Hirsch Congregation and included greeting cards decorated by students from Margolin Hebrew Academy’s early childhood center. Hilly has organized a rotating schedule of clergy representing all Memphis synagogues to visit senior facilities, and students from both Margolin Hebrew Academy and Bornblum Jewish Community School have helped deliver Shabbat and holiday packages. Hilly has also created a new lecture series for seniors at the Memphis Jewish Community Center immediately following the Center’s existing senior exercise group. On one occasion, a senior was so moved by the lecture that she requested additional copies of the source sheet to hand out to her friends.
Mary Elizabeth Jones, chair of the SSC as of August 2018, is Director of Social Services for Jewish Family Service at the MJCC. Previously, she worked in bereavement services for Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare.
Under her leadership, the SSC is pursuing two new initiatives.
A Transportation Solutions subcommittee chaired by Audrey May commissioned a Senior Transportation Survey, which drew over 100 responses from seniors in the community. The survey has yielded invaluable information about the transportation and mobility needs of seniors, including days and times when transportation is most needed, how much they can pay for transportation, and additional needs beyond the ride itself (ex. assistance getting in and out of the vehicle, assistance carrying packages into their home, limited English language proficiency that hinders their ability to communicate with the driver). The SSC will use this information to craft innovative solutions to improve seniors’ access to affordable transportation.
A Caregiver Training subcommittee, chaired by Mary Elizabeth, is organizing resources and training for seniors’ caregivers. More details will be forthcoming.
In addition to these new initiatives, the SSC continues to engage seniors and their caregivers through a monthly senior e-blast, which has been very well-received and is seeing new subscriber requests on a regular basis. A new Memphis Jewish Seniors Facebook group has also been created.
For more information about the Senior Services Collaborative, senior programming in the Memphis Jewish community, and sponsorship opportunities for the updated Senior Services Directory, contact Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein, firstname.lastname@example.org.