Enterprising young man thinks of a special way to help the hungry

Jonah Keller_1

Jonah Keller and his very first donation!

When Dr. Matthew Keller accepted the Dr. Howard A. Mermelstein Leadership Award at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service Annual Meeting last May, among his remarks was the following: that he and his wife Kristen were active in the community partly because they believed in “modeling volunteerism for our children.”

It seems to be working.

Last year, their 12-year-old son Jonah had an idea to help the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry (SHCFP) get more donated produce. He would put up a table at the Squirrel Hill Farmers Market, tell people about the needs of the Pantry and about hunger in our community, and ask them to donate some produce to the Pantry.

Jonah and his family have volunteered at the SHCFP, so Jonah knows about local hunger, and about the value of fresh fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. His parents helped him secure permission from the City, he made signs, and when the 2016 Farmers Market season began in June, Jonah and his table were there.

Looking back several weeks, Jonah admits it was a little hard to get started. He found asking strangers for donations – the cold sell – daunting at first. It was easier when people stopped by the table and asked him about the project. But he did like meeting the farmers and asking them to donate produce they had left over at the end of the day, which most have been happy to do.

Jonah’s project has grown tremendously; from the first head of lettuce to the current total of 750 pounds of fresh produce donated to SHCFP. Over that time, Jonah has gotten five of his friends and their families involved. He even started a calendar on SignUpGenius so people can sign up online for shifts! He plans to keep it going until the end of the season in November.

And it’s certainly a family affair. If people donate money instead of goods, it was decided to use those funds to buy more produce. That’s where Avielle, Jonah’s little sister, comes in. She has become the official produce shopper!

Jonah turns 13 next year and will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah in Israel in June. Since he won’t be in Pittsburgh much of next season, he is working on a plan to find someone who will take over the table next year.

JF&CS applauds Jonah not just because he’s raising food for the Food Pantry, but because he’s shown others that anybody – including kids – can do something to help their community be a better place to live. It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference – just an idea and a little determination.

If you find yourself at the Squirrel Hill Farmers Market some Sunday, stop by Jonah’s table, and if you are able, please consider donating some fresh produce for the Pantry. Or make a contribution another way; make a donation now to provide fresh produce to the Pantry, contact Kathy to become a Pantry volunteer, or think up a project of your own that helps your neighborhood!


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Back to school, with some much-appreciated financial help!

Shanna Naider 2016

Shanna Naider holds up her check with pride.

Monday, July 25th marked a local celebration of accomplishment and the future promise of a new generation of college students. The Central Scholarship & Loan Referral Service (CSLRS) program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, administered by Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS), held their annual scholarship check distribution event at the JCC. 

CSLRS enables Jewish students seeking financial aid to apply for many different scholarships with one application. This year CSLRS awarded about $430,000 to nearly 200 area Jewish students.

The evening program was brief but the atmosphere was buzzing with anticipation. Student recipients, many accompanied by their proud parents, listened to speakers from the CSLRS Committee, and Woody Ostrow, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Immediate Past Chair/Foundation Chair, before the distribution began. Carolyn Gerecht, Director of Teen Learning at the JCC and this year’s guest speaker, spoke warmly about some of the adventures and discoveries of her own college years not so many years ago, and reminded students heading off to college to make the most of their education, and not just in the classroom. The very important connection was made between receiving this aid and “paying it forward” by giving back to the community.

Shanna Naider, on her way back to graduate school this fall, happily posed for a picture holding her envelope up with a big smile. “I am proud,” she said. “I’ve worked very hard for my education. I am so looking forward to returning to grad school and this award really helps.”

This year actually marks the 50th year for CSLRS, the largest Jewish scholarship program in the nation. Each year, scholarship aid has been awarded to Jewish students in this region with demonstrable financial need who attend accredited institutions of higher education. At least two-year residency is required in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington or Westmoreland counties.

Applications for the 2017-2018 academic year will open in November. Potential applicants should regularly visit the CSLRS website for updates and important information about the application process. Only one online application is necessary to apply. Any Jewish high school senior or student enrolled in an undergraduate, graduate or technical school with financial need can apply to CSLRS.

The Jewish Federation, JF&CS, and the CSLRS organizations are committed to helping local Jewish students pursue advanced education by easing the financial burden. The CSLRS program represents an outstanding example of how the Pittsburgh region’s Jewish community has come together and supported the next generation and their critical need for advanced education to succeed in today’s world.

p.s. Here another scholarship to consider, not a CSLRS-related fund but also open to Jewish students. Holocaust survivors Sara and Max Goldsammler dedicated their lives to empowering the next generation of young adults. In their honor, OU Alumni is sponsoring a Sara and Max Goldsammler scholarship to go towards college tuition. Any high school senior or current Jewish college student for the 2016-17 school year can apply! First place, $1,000; second place, $500; third place, $300. Essay required: see the application here. Deadline is August 10th, 2016.


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Meet Our Staff: Stefanie Small

Small, Stefanie, 2016_2JF&CS is pleased to announce the recent promotion of Stefanie Small from Clinical Services Supervisor to the position of Director of Clinical Services, which became effective July 1. She will add supervision of all psychological services, previously overseen by Dr. Jordan Golin, to her present duties. As previously announced, Jordan will take on the role of CEO at the end of September. Stefanie’s promotion is part of a well thought out transition plan to keep all programs running smoothly.

Stefanie Small came to JF&CS as an intern in 2000 when she was finishing her Masters in Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh. She is also a licensed clinician in counseling in the state of PA, and has been JF&CS’s Clinical Services Supervisor since early 2014.

“I’ve loved this agency since I came here as an intern,” she said. “And I have no plans to go anywhere else. I love this community. My home, worksite and kids’ school are all within five blocks of here. Murray Avenue is my corridor.”

Stefanie describes how, over the years, the need for consulting expertise has greatly increased, taking JF&CS beyond individual counseling services and into nontraditional venues like schools and senior living facilities. When asked what some of her goals were for the department, she said this sharing of expertise would continue to expand.

“It’s about how we can be of the most use to our community,” she said. “So that trajectory will continue. But the key is still making sure our involvement brings measureable value to each person we serve.”

Especially as the local population continues to age, and more elder care and services are needed throughout the community. For example, new residents in many senior living facilities go through an adjustment period, usually after giving up their homes, and in their eyes, their independence. Most facilities don’t have the resources to focus programs specifically on this transition, so JF&CS can provide that assistance, helping new residents make the most of their new situation.

Stefanie laughingly said she is a detail–oriented person, but looks forward to taking on more of the “bigger picture” view of the department. She thinks having “come from the ranks” will prove useful when looking at things from different perspectives and keeping in mind the needs of the whole staff. She’s grateful for the collaborative atmosphere among all her colleagues at JF&CS, and for what she’s learned from the people she considers mentors. She’s become a part of that tradition, ready to mentor others.

“It’s such a warm environment. People aren’t disposable here,” she said. “I’m still excited every time I get an email announcing new staff members, because I love the fact that we take time to get to know everybody. There really is a good reason we keep getting voted one of the best places to work in Pittsburgh!”




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World Refugee Day: Market Square Goes International

IMG_1289 (1)There’s always something happening in Market Square at lunch time, and last Friday was no exception. It was Pittsburgh’s celebration of World Refugee Day, and it was colorful, moving and thoroughly enjoyable.

Each year, World Refugee Day is an opportunity for refugees who have settled in this region to share their cultural heritage. Refugee resettlement agencies and social service organizations, along with immigrants and refugees converged on Market Square, and offered a busy downtown crowd native foods and crafts, and several different performances of drumming and dance. From four young girls with swirling scarves and skirts, to some loud lively African drummer/singers that had the entire crowd clapping and singing along, for a few lunchtime hours Market Square became an international gathering place.

Perhaps most moving of all was a naturalization ceremony for ten refugees. As the representative from the Immigration Service administered the Oath of Allegiance, these ten people raised their right hands and solemnly swore to uphold and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States, becoming new citizens of the United States.

Two of these new Americans came to the podium and shared the story of their journeys from their homelands to this moment. A young Bhutanese woman’s family left their home when she was just three years old, and lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for eighteen years! She warmly thanked her new country for giving her family back the ability to dream again, and to work to make those dreams come true.

An older man from Burma related a similar story of decades in a refugee camp. He said there was no work, nothing to do, very little to eat and no other place to go. Finally his family was offered the opportunity to resettle here in America. His joy was for his children and grandchildren’s future. “I am an old man now,” he said, “but I am so happy that my children and their children will be able to make something of their lives.”

Moments like these are at the heart of the refugee resettlement program at JF&CS. Real families, like most American families you know, want the chance to raise their children, engage in meaningful work and live in peace. It is difficult for us to really imagine their hardships, but we certainly can relate to their dreams.

Many thanks to the presenting sponsor the Urban Affairs Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. JF&CS was a partner in the event, along with Acculturation for Justice, Access and Peace Outreach (AJAPO), Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Northern Area Multi-Service Center, South Hills Interfaith Movement, Young Democrats of Allegheny County, City of Asylum Pittsburgh, CISV Pittsburgh, Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council and American Red Cross of Southwestern PA to mark World Refugee Day.


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Please join us for World Refugee Day on June 17

“Refugees are people like anyone else, like you and me. They led ordinary lives before becoming displaced, and their biggest dream is to be able to live normally again. On this World Refugee Day, let us recall our common humanity, celebrate tolerance and diversity and open our hearts to refugees everywhere.” — UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Pittsburgh will celebrate World Refugee Day on Friday, June 17 in downtown Market Square from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. As in past years, the event includes cultural performances (drumming, dance and songs), food booths featuring international cuisine, and information booths where visitors can learn about Pittsburgh’s refugee resettlement activities and about the many different refugee populations that have been resettled in Pittsburgh.

Additionally, for the first time, 10 refugees will take their oath of allegiance and actually become U.S. citizens in a short naturalization ceremony.

JF&CS will be represented at the event, along with Acculturation for Justice, Access and Peace Outreach (AJAPO), Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Northern Area Multi-Service Center, South Hills Interfaith Movement, Young Democrats of Allegheny County, City of Asylum Pittsburgh, CISV Pittsburgh, Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council and American Red Cross of Southwestern PA. The event is funded by the Urban Affairs Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

“This is going to be a wonderful celebration of the diverse cultures represented by our local refugee communities,” said Dr. Yinka Aganga-Williams, Executive Director of AJAPO, one of the lead organizations.  “It is also a great opportunity for the public to get to know their newest neighbors while experiencing the refugees’ food, music, dance and stories.”

Currently it is reported that there are some 60 million refugees in the world, either internally or externally displaced. Most refugees that resettle in Pittsburgh have been away from their homes for at least a few years before they wend their way through vetting and paperwork, and are then accepted into the U.S. to be helped by local agencies like JF&CS where they receive a helping hand. This include furnished housing, rent for a few months, employment support and connections to community resources to learn English, enroll children in school and become familiar with practical and cultural matters like negotiating the bus system.

World Refugee Day was started by the United Nations in 2000 to draw attention to the human consequences of war and violence all over the world. The refugees that have settled here want to share their culture with us. Please join us at this event and help promote peace and tolerance of all peoples.

Pittsburgh’s World Refugee Day
Friday, June 17, 2016
11 AM – 2 PM
Market Square, Pittsburgh, PA

 Tentative Schedule:

Opening Remarks
Drum Performance by Afrika Yetu
Bhutanese Dance Group
Children of Shangri Lost Dance Group
Children of Shangri Lost Vocal Performance

Remarks by Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald
US Citizenship & Immigration Services – Refugee Citizenship Ceremony

Refugee Voices
African Dance Group from Brashear High School (tentative)
Sitar Performance (tentative)
Closing Statements

*Public restrooms are available in 2 PPG Place*


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JF&CS Annual Meeting was very special this year

Last Thursday evening, more than 140 people attended JF&CS’s Annual Meeting, held this year at the Jewish Community Center. Thank you for this tremendous community support!

Our Annual Meeting is a time to celebrate the achievements of the previous year, acknowledge our own “changes and challenges” and share our upcoming goals and plans with our community.

Rabbi Alex Greenbaum of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills provided the D’Var Torah, which reflected the theme of the evening – diversity and inclusion. He spoke about Jewish law that requires reaching out to help others, engaging with the community and working to improve the world. He drew connections between this law and the work that JF&CS has always done for nearly 80 years.

Meet a few of the people JF&CS has helped in our new video celebrating diversity and inclusion!

Highlights of the evening included the presentation of two awards.

Dr. Matthew Keller, At-Large Officer, accepted the Dr. Howard A. Mermelstein Leadership Award for his wonderful work on the JF&CS Board of Directors. His message of modeling volunteerism for his children struck a chord with everyone in attendance.

Aryeh and Hilary 2016 - for IONAdditionally, another award was announced at the Annual Meeting. As you already know, our President & CEO Aryeh Sherman will retire this fall. Over the last few months, several staff members have thought about what could be done to express appreciation for Aryeh and all that he’s accomplished and instilled at JF&CS throughout his 17-year tenure. Since his life’s work embodies a commitment to community engagement to make change for good, the idea of presenting an award to a dedicated volunteer in Aryeh’s name felt like it would be one appropriate honor.

Thus, the Aryeh Sherman Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Hilary Spatz, who made significant volunteer contributions to JF&CS’s legal immigration services department, supporting staff and providing legal representation to unaccompanied minor refugees. Congratulations to Hilary!

Dr. Jordan Golin, COO and Director of Clinical & Elder Care Services, and incoming CEO this fall, spoke about his gratitude for the next few months to work with Aryeh before his transition to CEO in October, and about holding on to the values the organization has built even as times and priorities may change.

Finally, Aryeh spoke about JF&CS pursuing diversity and inclusion in far more than the current “political” sense. Rather, those words guided the development of the organization since its beginning, as program development identified and sought out struggling populations and helped to open opportunities for them. He was thrilled with the volunteer award in his name; he said he could not have thought of a more pleasing legacy.

Many thanks to all who attended, to the band Machete Kisumontao for providing such lively music, to Elegant Edge Catering for the fantastic food and to the staff that worked so hard to make the evening run smoothly.

Check out our Annual Meeting photo album on Facebook!


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Career Development Center’s first WorkLaunch well received

unnamedWorkLaunch: Career Connections and Workshops was a three-day, six-site county-wide career event designed to connect the Pittsburgh community to workforce and supportive resources. Through the partnership of Career Development Center of JF&CS and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, WorkLaunch debuted April 5th, 6th and 7th at several library locations throughout Allegheny County. The innovative, all-in-one career workshop series was designed to target all jobseekers throughout the region, and offered programming inclusive of employment issues faced by recent college graduates, veterans, mature workers, refugees and immigrants, single parents and those on the autism spectrum or who have a diagnosed mental health disorder.

WorkLaunch provided jobseekers the opportunity to engage and connect with more than 20 area employers, education and training providers, among them University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny Health Network, UPMC, Giant Eagle, and CCAC. Attendees learned about job search resources provided by Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Career Development Center and valuable skills in workshops on resume development, interviewing, networking and other career readiness topics.

“The WorkLaunch series extends beyond that of the average career fair or workshop. Job search culture has changed tremendously in a short period of time, and now jobseekers have to be able to understand the nuances of looking for work, utilize all facets of technology and all resources at their disposal,” said Sarah Welch, Director of the Career Development Center. “Applying for a job is about more than sending out a resume in an email or filling out an online application; it’s about making personal connections with potential employers, engaging people in your story and building relationships that lead to career opportunities.”

This first WorkLaunch series was attended by almost 200 participants, among them refugees, veterans, single parents and individuals living with disabilities. Seventy-five percent of those who filled out the survey reported being unemployed or underemployed.

“I really enjoyed my day. When I first arrived, I was a little nervous since I haven’t looked for a job in 10 years,” said one participant. “Your staff made me feel comfortable and confident. I learned so much and it was great talking with the recruiters during the employer networking sessions. I found the one-on-one time, presentations, and the encouragement as that commercial says…PRICELESS.”

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