Though it’s called Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia, JFCS has always been a resource for its non-Jewish neighbors.
“We feel very strongly that as a Jewish organization, it’s our responsibility to be an active player in taking care of the full community,” says Paula Goldstein, JFCS president and CEO.
Historically, the agency has provided adoption and foster care programs, prevention services for children in the Philadelphia public schools, mental health support, and clothing assistance to non-Jewish Philadelphians. Yet, until recently, financial constraints made it impossible for JFCS to provide care management services and safety-net assistance to the broader community.
That’s changed since JFCS and its longtime donors, David and Marjorie Rosenberg, established Greater As Partners (GAP), a new giving circle that extends beyond the Jewish community to respond to the needs of non-Jewish individuals and families from across the Greater Philadelphia region.
Simultaneously, a recently hired care manager, whose position was funded by an anonymous donor couple, will assist individuals and families in accessing support from the giving circle. The care manager will also help underserved clients obtain the public assistance to which they are entitled and connect them to additional services through JFCS.
Says Goldstein: “The first thing we do when we provide any financial assistance is we do a lot of financial analysis with people that we’re serving. We do budgeting and we talk to them about debt. [Pre-COVID-19] we sometimes accompanied them to the social services office and helped them get signed up. Beyond that, we assess if we can help them with rent or utility payments, or put them into our food delivery program, which we’ve been doing since the pandemic started. … There’s a lot that we can do to help them.”
David Rosenberg notes that the events of the past year—the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting financial crisis, the calls for racial justice that occurred following the death of George Floyd, and increased incidents of xenophobic violence and harassment—are what prompted him and his wife to start GAP.
“I reflected on my experiences with JFCS and my Jewish values of respect and compassion and living with dignity and embracing diversity and inclusion,” says Rosenberg. “My family and I have been very fortunate through the pandemic. We have a nice home and a roof over our head and we’ve not really suffered in terms of any illnesses. We live a white-privileged lifestyle. And so I began to think about all of the other people in the underserved communities that are certainly not nearly as fortunate. And I just thought that it was really appropriate for the Jewish community in this time of urgency to contribute to the non-Jewish community and our neighbors that are in so much hurt and pain.”
In the past, JFCS has had great success with fundraising via giving circles. Those circles “served as a model for GAP,” says Pia M. Eisenberg, JFCS senior vice president of community engagement, who believes giving circles are “powerful because they bring people together.”
Though it was based on JFCS’s other giving circles, GAP has a key difference. “We really consulted the people who would be recipients of the giving circle,” says Eisenberg. “We felt it was important that they have a voice and that we hear what they needed and what they would really respond to. That was a really wonderful part of the process and I think it’s something that we’ll do from this point forward.”
Rosenberg agrees. “I think it was a really smart way to go. I mean, what is right for me and what feels like a good structure for me, is not necessarily what is good for the Black and brown community.”
Before they launched GAP, JFCS leaders reached out to staff members who are people of color, as well as some of their clients, to find out what would be most helpful. What they heard from staff and clients confirmed what JFCS leaders and professionals had learned in the agency’s recent diversity and equity training program. The agency’s non-Jewish clients were looking for a partnership.
“It didn’t feel good to them to have people of privilege giving money to them from the top down,” says Goldstein. Instead, GAP’s grant process relies on the care manager’s reports about what her clients need. The reports are based on her consultations with the people she serves.
“The care manager comes to me and says, ‘Here’s a case,’” says Goldstein. “Then, I’ll send it out to the donors and the donors will actually vote on the case. Now, they never vote no. It’s just a way for them to engage and have a voice in the process. After the fact, we tell the donors what their dollars have done.”
To date, Goldstein estimates GAP has raised approximately $120,000—$60,000 for the care manager’s salary and $60,000 for GAP grant recipients who have received assistance with finding housing, paying rent and purchasing furniture.
Though GAP began as a response to the pandemic, the circle will continue to fund grants such as these even after COVID-19 is eradicated. JFCS is hoping to hire a second care manager in the near future.
“We will only expand, not contract, in terms of these services,” says Goldstein, who hopes the GAP circle, which currently includes 11 philanthropists contributing at various levels, will attract non-Jewish philanthropists, as well.
“It’s a wonderful thing that Jewish donors are coming together to do this for the non-Jewish community,” she says. “But again, with the partnership philosophy, we want to partner with non-Jewish donors, as well.”
While the pandemic has interfered with in-person discussions, David Rosenberg wants to be as involved in the process as possible.
“I really like to be hands-on with my philanthropy,” he says. “I think the easiest thing to do is to write a check. And the difficult thing to do is to really roll your sleeves up and see what the program is about and meet the people that you’re assisting and really be engaged. I mean, that, to me, is really what philanthropy is all about.”
Rosenberg hopes to have direct contact with some of the grant recipients as soon as it is safe to do so.
He says the GAP circle and philosophy feels right at a time when the country is so divided. “It’s important for the Jewish community to recognize that community is community, and that means assisting people that are not necessarily the same religion as you. … It warms my heart to think that people will step up to help a neighbor in spite of their differences. And I think if we look at the world through that lens, it becomes a much better world to live in.”