Mom’s Coffee Club: a cup of companionship for adoptive moms

At JF&CS, a group of adoptive moms meets monthly to share stories about parenting their adopted children and to lend support to each other. Created more than a decade ago for women who adopted internationally, group members now include domestic adoption moms. During this National Adoption Month, Sandy*, a member of Mom’s Coffee Club at JF&CS for eight years, shared her thoughts on adoption.

Sandy and her husband have a son, and they adopted two daughters from the former Soviet Union. Both adults have worked extensively with children in their careers, and they thought that if anyone was prepared to adopt children, they were.

“It was humbling, what we didn’t know,” Sandy said. “But our experience with children did help us identify the concerns and come to understand that we needed help.”

Sandy said the group has been her rock, and she does whatever it takes to make the monthly meeting. Bari Benjamin, LCSW, BCD, a psychotherapist at JF&CS’s Squirrel Hill Psychological Services and the group’s founder and facilitator, also adopted a child from Russia, so she knows exactly what these moms deal with.

“All parenting is challenging at one time or another,” she said. “But these moms have the additional issues that come with adopting children, especially non-infants, away from their homeland, often with little knowledge of their background or family history.  I wanted to provide a supportive, confidential environment where they could discuss all their feelings and connect with other people who would understand.”

Sandy values the group for many reasons. She says everyone can be completely honest and share things they wouldn’t share with their friends for fear of somehow “marking” their child. Group members exchange information and resources they have discovered, a good child therapist, for example. Sandy said the camaraderie and understanding she finds there “puts me in a healthy spot,” makes her a better parent, and hence has been beneficial for her daughters. Finally, she said sharing the joys and victories, sometimes even things other parents might find unremarkable, can be sustaining milestones to these moms.

Sandy advises all prospective adoptive parents to inform themselves, speak to experienced parents, consult relevant professionals, and do some soul-searching before they proceed. Her older daughter has grown to be a typical teenager, but the younger one has some special needs. “We’ve developed the tools to parent these kids and understand how they see the world,” she said, adding that that the group has made it possible for her family to thrive.

If you are the mother of an adopted child and are interested in exploring Mom’s Coffee Club, contact Bari Benjamin at JF&CS (412-521-3800, ext 5946). Bari also sees individual clients.

If you are considering adoption or becoming a foster parent, you can contact JF&CS’s Family Hope Connection (412-422-8567).

*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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Restoring your balance after great stress

Last week’s election was a dramatic example of serious division in our nation. The depth of conflicting views has put stress not only on our political system but also on relationships between friends and family members who may have differing political views.

Wendy Levin-Shaw, LCSW, a therapist at JF&CS’s Squirrel Hill Psychological Services, offers a few suggestions for managing our feelings and healing personal rifts. She says the steps follow those of resolving any conflict:

  • Take care of yourself. Do whatever you do to de-stress: a long walk, meditation, go to the movies, exercise, listen to or play music, go to the place where you get spiritual nourishment. Consider turning off the news and social media.
  • Do something. Residual distress and feelings of powerlessness can be alleviated by taking action. Join an organization you believe in or volunteer to help others. Clarify your own beliefs and priorities. Find an effective way to make sure that your voice is heard.
  • Find agreements. In dealing with disagreements with friends or family members, look for the places where you can agree. Though we may disagree about what to do, we often share the underlying issue – concern for our family, our country, our relationship or our future. Can you share your concerns? Can you acknowledge that you may actually feel the same way about lots of other things?
  • Listen. When we are agitated, we may think we are listening when we are actually already generating our response. Try to give your undivided attention, allow the other person to finish, let it soak in, and then respond. Think about how much you want to be heard.
  • Widen your sources of information. Explore respected, non-partisan news outlets. You don’t have to agree – just become informed of different perspectives. Social media and Wikipedia aren’t enough.
  • Remember that these are people you love. We don’t have to think alike all the time; in fact, we often love people because they aren’t like us. Remember the joy of those differences. Relationships are the essence of our lives – think of the times that they have been an immense source of comfort and strength.

The steps above can lead to rediscovering or strengthening the central quality needed for any enduring relationship: respect. In counseling, it’s an axiom that the most toxic thing to a relationship is not when people disagree, or even fight, but when they have trouble respecting each other. It’s up to us to show the respect we want from others. Despite differences of opinion, we have to pursue peace and tolerance if we want to live in harmony.

If your life is out of balance, and you think that counseling might be right for you, call Squirrel Hill Psychological Services at 412-521-3800.

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Immigrants and Refugees are Finding Their Way in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is your home. You know your bridges and your bus routes, how to get to your doctor or grocery store, renew your driver’s license, and probably find a plumber. In an emergency, you can dial 911 and know that help will come.

For many refugees and immigrants in our region, however, basic things like these have to be learned, often with very limited language skills. Struggling with public transportation, communication, new cultural expectations and finding critical services are daily challenges for those who have recently arrived in our region from other countries.

At Jewish Family & Children’s Service, we’ve resettled refugees and immigrants for 80 years…and we know how they feel. So every day we try to make things a little better. One way is through a multi-agency partnership called ISAC* (Immigrant Services and Connections), funded by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS), that serves immigrant and refugee populations. ISAC is a collaborative, centralized approach to helping refugees and immigrants locate and access services, including medical care, legal assistance, education programs, occupational training, and more. As the lead agency in this collaboration, JF&CS ensures that foreign born individuals throughout the Pittsburgh region get the support they need to successfully integrate into our community. A new ISAC website has been initiated and will provide a central online location for professionals who work with the foreign born. Many of the materials will be available in several languages.

At JF&CS, we know how much refugee and immigrant families contribute to the quality of life in our community, as long as they have the tools and support to achieve success. *******************************************

If you are interested in learning more about refugees, where they come from, what resettlement involves, how Pennsylvanians feel about accepting more refugees, and how JF&CS works in the refugee community, please visit the following links:

Can you imagine leaving your country because of war and violence, and trying to make your way to somewhere safe? (Video: 2 minutes)

WQED’s recent Pittsburgh 360 segment on refugees explains how JF&CS works to help refugees and immigrants succeed in their new country. (Video: 28 minutes)

A new poll released by the Penn State Harrisburg School of Public Affairs shows that a majority of Pennsylvanians support accepting more Syrian refugees into the country.

The poll mentioned above shows that Americans are concerned about how refugees accepted for resettlement are screened. Take a look at the lengthy and thorough steps all refugees go through before they can enter the U.S.

*JF&CS is grateful to be working with these ISAC partners: Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Latino Family Center, Casa San Jose, the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, Northern Area Multi Service Center, and South Hill Interfaith Movement.
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Raising awareness about adoption and foster care – learn more and share your stories

What a gentle irony. A teenager, anxious about being adopted after a nearly lifetime of moving between different homes, secretly wonders: “Are they going to love me enough?” At the same moment, her adoptive parents exchange a glance that says, “Are we going to be enough for her?” Both have trepidation about taking this leap of faith, but the human drive for connection and family prevails. In this case the answer was “Yes,” and “Yes.”

November is National Adoption Month! In recent years, National Adoption Month has become focused on foster children, especially older children. It is a common misconception that these older kids don’t need or want parenting. But as another teenager noted, he wanted somebody to be sitting proudly in the audience at his high school graduation — the need for family is lifelong.

The future of these tens of thousands of children is vitally important. JF&CS has specialized in helping under-served populations, and nearly 20 years ago committed to help build families and find children safe, loving and permanent homes by launching Family Hope Connection (FHC).

If you have never experienced foster care or adoption in your family, you can learn more about options on the FHC website. If your family has experience with adoption and foster care, we hope you’ll consider helping us raise awareness this month by sharing your stories on the FHC Facebook page.

JoAnn White, Director of FHC since its inception, notes some of the many changes in the
system over the years:

“The adoption process has evolved as the society has,” she said. “Today 40% of adopted
children are of a different race, culture, or ethnicity than one or both their adoptive parents. Almost 70% of domestic adoptions are now open adoptions. Single and LBGT people can be foster parents and adopt. And the focus on only adopting infants is gradually easing.”

Here are some other facts about adoption and foster care that you might not know:
       -One out of every 25 U.S. families with children has an adopted child.
       -There are more than 110,000 foster children eligible for adoption and waiting for their permanent families.
       -After rising for decades, overseas adoptions have dropped by half since 2004. The
decline is thought to be due to rising restrictions put in place by other countries. For
example, Russia has halted international adoptions altogether.

JoAnn reminds us that we can also take advantage of National Adoption Month to update our sensitivity level. As families become more “blended” and diverse at the same time, the family “orchard” has replaced the family “tree.” And no longer do we ask adoptive parents, “Do you have any children of your own?”

Visit the Family Hope Connection website to learn about adoption and foster care. If you are considering becoming a parent, call FHC at 412-422-8567 and we can guide you through this complicated but ultimately rewarding journey.

People often comment how “lucky” foster children and adoptees are. But adoptive and foster parents aren’t heroes, just people with very big hearts. And if you say their adopted or foster children are lucky, most often they correct you and say THEY are the lucky ones.

Masthead designed from adoption t-shirt designs by BonfireFunds.com released for free public use.

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Governor takes steps to end hunger in Pennsylvania

Governor Tom Wolf’s new plan to fight hunger in Pennsylvania was announced on September 22nd. The announcement describes a “blueprint” of specific goals to be achieved by 2020.

Most of the goals focus on making better use of current federal and state assistance programs, like SNAP (Food Stamps), school breakfast, lunch and summer feeding programs for children, and distributing more Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) vouchers (a state program offering vouchers that mothers of small children can only spend at PA farmers markets). In food banking circles, striving to not “leave money on the table” is an ongoing practice.

Other goals focus on building awareness and improving bureaucracy, like publishing application forms in several languages. The last item states that “Pennsylvania will improve access to healthy, nutritious food.”

“It’s good to see the Governor make a conscious commitment to ending hunger in our state,” said Matthew Bolton, director of the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry. “Ending hunger is really a matter of gathering the political will and then working together to make it happen.”

According to Feeding America, the national organization of food banks, more than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians experience “food insecurity.” More than 3,000 of those people live in our community. Food security is defined as having enough food and nutrition to live a normal healthy life.

What would implementation of this blueprint mean to southwestern Pennsylvania? As an
agricultural state, the FMNP supports Pennsylvania farmers. Data has shown that every
SNAP dollar spent by recipients brings $9.00 of economic activity to the community. Providing more fresh produce and other healthy food improves community health and has been proven to reduce healthcare costs.

The Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry (SHCFP) has been working to eliminate hunger in our community for years. Through our extensive outreach efforts, we have been able to support more and more families with food and other assistance. We are also committed to providing large percentages of healthy food and produce to our clients. And to serve particular needs in our community, SHCFP is the only pantry that provides kosher food in this region and is one of very few that offers gluten-free options.

If you need food assistance, you can contact the Pantry at 412-421-2708. The Pantry has a SNAP Outreach Coordinator who can pre-screen for eligibility and help fill out applications for SNAP benefits. Eligible clients can register at the Pantry and receive food at least once a month, and anyone in need of emergency food will be served.

We believe that people going hungry in our community, for any reason, is unacceptable, and we are very fortunate to have many supporters and volunteers who feel the same way. The ability of the Pantry to serve those in need depends on that support. You can make a donation to help feed the 3,000 people who struggle with hunger in our community, or you can volunteer a few hours of your time to help us keep up with the day-to-day activities like sorting and shelving food. If you would like to volunteer, call (412-421-2708) or email the Pantry.

You can view the PA state Blueprint to End Hunger.

 

 

 

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Meet a woman who changed her life – thanks to you!

Transitions are a part of life. Throughout the most difficult ones—unemployment, hunger, aging and more—JF&CS has opened our doors to those who need our innovative services, our steadfast support and above all, a helping hand.

Now is when we turn to you to open your hearts to the people we serve. Each year around this time, we send you our Annual Appeal, asking you if you would be willing to help fund our work for the coming year ahead.

You have the power to ensure that we are able to continue helping the more than 10,000 people who look to JF&CS for the support, resources and compassion they need to change their lives. Your financial gift in response to this appeal directly supports our mission of helping people through life’s changes and challenges.

With your support to our Annual Campaign, we can continue to provide quality services to people like Linda.*

Linda recently moved home to Pittsburgh with her young son. Her recent divorce and the move left her financially and emotionally exhausted. She took the first job she could find, but part time work at a convenience store neither covered her expenses nor offered any sense of growth or fulfillment.

Worried about her son’s well-mom_hugging_sons-one-sonbeing, losing her rental home, paying her bills and continuing to put food on the table, she found the critical needs program at JF&CS. At her first appointment, her coordinator talked with Linda about her goals and immediately referred her to the Department of Human Services for food and medical assistance. Linda was also able to access low-cost child care, register at JF&CS’s Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry and connect to JF&CS’s Career Development Center for job counseling. She and her son also received therapy through Squirrel Hill Psychological Services as they worked through this very difficult transition.

As she regained her footing, Linda decided to go back to school. Once more, JF&CS came through. She received some scholarship assistance through the Central Scholarship & Load Referral Service (CSLRS) of the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, administered by JF&CS. Staff at CSLRS helped her find other financial aid for nontraditional students to ensure her financial situation would not derail her goals.

This fall, Linda will complete her degree in social work. Because of the comprehensive, innovative services of JF&CS and the supporters who make our work possible, Linda did indeed complete her transition – to an economically stable fulfilling future.

YOU have the power to change the lives of your neighbors who are struggling. On behalf of Linda and clients like her, THANK YOU for your generous response to our appeal.

 

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JF&CS bids farewell to long time leader Aryeh Sherman

As the Jewish community prepares for Rosh Hashanah (New Year) next week, JF&CS is preparing for a change in leadership. We say farewell to our President and CEO Aryeh Sherman after 17 years of service. And we begin our journey with a new President & CEO in Dr. Jordan Golin

Aryeh has been recognized over many years with various awards for excellence in leadership and we were fortunate to have benefited from his skills and adept leadership. It is Aryeh’s generosity of spirit, kindness, and his “gentle” passion that is unique and will be most missed. We hope we have learned those qualities from him and how to preserve and nurture them. Over his 17 years here, his vision and commitment has only strengthened – that’s our legacy to treasure.

At JF&CS today, there are nearly 100 employees and over 2,000 volunteers. Last fiscal year, JF&CS served some 10,000 clients, all people facing challenges. In an increasingly stressed world, as resources dwindle, Aryeh has seen to it that our community has somewhere to turn for help.

We wish Aryeh and his family every happiness and success on their next chapter. We know that he will find new ways to help make our community and this world a better place for all people. He will take on new challenges with the same thoughtful persistence as he has given JF&CS.

So for JF&CS staff, it is indeed a time of change. JF&CS is making good use of this critical juncture to assess its direction and prepare for the ever changing future.

One more popular custom during Rosh Hashanah is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of our wish for a sweet new year. A bushel basket of apples and a gallon of honey to you, Aryeh.

And L’shanah tovah to all of our friends and supporters, clients and volunteers.

aryeh-retirement-breakfast_1

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