AmeriCorps members bring welcome skills to JF&CS

At Jewish Family & Children’s Service, we are fortunate to be able to secure the assistance and talent of many young adults through the AmeriCorps program. AmeriCorps personnel work at JF&CS in several of our departments, and offer invaluable skills. Justin Shao is an AmeriCorps volunteer who came to JF&CS last September to work in the Immigration Legal Services department.

Justin Shao soloJustin was raised in Pittsburgh and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with an interest in history, urban studies and international development. He has been a community organizer, traveled all over the world, and has lived abroad.

Returning to Pittsburgh not too long ago, he decided the timing was right for his application to AmeriCorps. Looking over the descriptions of open positions, he chose JF&CS because our work with immigrants and refugees aligned with his interest in world affairs.

At JF&CS, Justin serves as an Immigration Legal Services intake coordinator, often answering a client’s first call or email for assistance. He determines the nature of their need, which may be a challenge due to navigating language barriers and complex circumstances. The legal services team reviews these cases and decides how to proceed. Justin also schedules meetings and interviews for clients and legal representatives (some staff and many volunteer attorneys) and manages a lot of case paperwork.

Justin says he was surprised at the amount of need for these services in this city and that there was such an active international community. He’s heard dozens of languages, and he occasionally has been able to interpret for some Chinese clients. Growing up with first generation American parents, he is sensitive to the challenges immigrants face in their journey to citizenship.

“I have gotten to see another side of Pittsburgh that I didn’t know existed,” he said. “Through programs like ISAC (Immigrant Services and Connections, a multi-agency collaborative effort to centralize immigrant services), I was amazed that there were interpreters for so many languages, indicating a much more diverse population in this area than I had realized.”

JF&CS’s Immigrant Legal Services department helps immigrants navigate the legal journey to American citizenship and resolve problems that come up along the way. With the issue of immigration so prevalent in the news, calls for assistance have increased. And so has awareness. We’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the large number of attorneys and community members who want to volunteer to help our immigrant community.

“I am impressed by the people who have worked so hard to come here,” Justin says. “Despite formidable challenges, they are rising above adversity, working hard to learn English, and doing everything within their power to make a better life for themselves and their family. And they are by and large extremely patriotic in how they feel about this country. Given the circumstances so many have come from, they notice and appreciate many things we take for granted. When you attend an oath ceremony (the swearing in of new citizens), you hear so many stories of courage and perseverance.”

Legal services are available on a sliding fee scale for legal immigrants and their families. For assistance, please call 412-904-5966, or email us.

Posted in Immigration Services, Legal Services, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s Up at AgeWell Pittsburgh

Congratulations, AgeWell Pittsburgh!

Congratulations to AgeWell Pittsburgh for being named as a finalist for this year’s 2017 Collaboration Prize. This is a national award given by The Foundation Center (funded by The Lodestar Foundation) designed to highlight exceptional permanent models of collaboration among nonprofit organizations. JF&CS is a proud partner in this collaborative effort, along with the Jewish Community Center and Jewish Association on Aging, which helps to keep seniors active and engaged in the community. We could not be more pleased that this dynamic, positive approach to aging has been nationally recognized.

Spring has arrived, time to start getting out and about!

If you are a senior who doesn’t drive, you may be eligible to for free rides from an AgeWell Rides volunteer. These volunteer drivers help seniors go shopping, get to appointments and attend programs and activities around the area.

If you are or know of a senior who may be homebound, isolated or just a little lonely, AgeWell Visits might be able to help. Carefully matched volunteers visit seniors and senior couples who live alone and play games, help with small chores and sometimes just provide good company. Contact Ellen at JF&CS by calling 412-422-0400, to volunteer or request a friendly visit or a ride.

If your needs are more comprehensive, AgeWell Pittsburgh can help you identify and locate services. JF&CS provides needs assessment, home safety evaluations, care management, counseling, and referrals for in-home care through Caregiver Connection.

If you would like more information about any AgeWell Pittsburgh programs or services, you can call Maxine at the AgeWell Pittsburgh referral line at 412-422-0400. She can help direct you to all kinds of services available throughout Allegheny County.

AgeWell Pittsburgh community partner events

The JCC also offers a daily kosher luncheon and dozens of activities for seniors: discussions, fitness, memory-building, help with technical devices, voter registration, a book club and much more. Visit the JCC website for more information.

The Jewish Association on Aging (JAA), is offering a free panel discussion called “Care Options Through the Stages of Dementia” on Friday, April 7th, from 1:30 – 3:30 pm at the JAA, Charles M. Morris Campus Community Room (200 JHF Drive, Pittsburgh, 15217). Older spouses caring for loved ones, children caring for aging parents, and professionals can find out about care and support options and have their questions answered by a panel of professionals. R.S.V.P. to Amy Dukes by calling 412-521-8295.

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You can give the gift of summer camp to a struggling child

Client’s name changed to protect confidentiality.Photos are of Quest campers from various years.

Goodbye Ceremony (cousins!) - twoA child diagnosed with autism, ADHD, or other social or emotional
challenges may struggle with making friends and handling social situations.
For Mark*, a home-schooled child diagnosed with depression and anxiety,
not having the usual school day opportunities for social interaction made it
especially difficult for him to relate to other children and get along with

That was until he came to Quest Camp.

For more than 20 years, Quest Camps have helped thousands of children make dramatic
improvements in behavioral, emotional and social functioning. Quest’s unique system
combines recreational activities, behavioral goals and group psychotherapy. Squirrel Hill
Psychological Services partnered with Quest Therapeutic Camps to bring the summer camp program to Pittsburgh in 2012; the first of its kind in the area. Most campers leave Quest Camp feeling more confident, with increased self-awareness, and demonstrating
improvements in the social and emotional domains of their lives.

Mark blossomed from his first day at camp. Approaching another boy his age, the two instantly discovered their shared passion: Pokémon. Through the following weeks, their friendship continued to grow. As he started to feel more accepted and connected, Mark made great progress on his individualized camp goals, some of which were focused on separating silliness from seriousness and asking others about their interests.

This friendship also continued after camp ended. The boys are able to meet up regularly at the local library to spend time playing table top games and catching up. In a world that often doesn’t quite “understand” kids like Mark, a friend is priceless.

An added happy ending to this story is that Mark was only able to attend camp because of a
scholarship-and that his scholarship was made possible by people like you.

IMG_6542_zpsace74d99 - smallerWith donations from family, friends and other supporters, Quest is able to give more kids like Mark, often struggling with day-to-day life, a chance to be a part of this welcoming

You can make a donation today through Quest Camp’s Go-Fund-Me page. All funds directly provide scholarships for campers who would otherwise be unable to attend. To apply for a scholarship, click here. Scholarships are awarded on a rolling basis as funds become available.

Quest Camp gives kids who are struggling with emotional and social challenges a chance to participate in all the usual summer camp fun, stay safe in a structured setting, and be themselves in an accepting environment. We hope you can help us give the gift of summer camp to someone like Mark.

For more information on Quest Camp, contact camp director Aprilynn Artz, or visit the Quest Camp website.

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Outstanding volunteer receives Jefferson Award

Jeff Herzog 2016Volunteer Jeff Herzog keeps a sign posted above his desk listing the eight degrees of giving according to Jewish principles. The eighth, and highest, principle written on his sign says: “To help another to become self-supporting by means of a gift, a loan, or by finding employment for the one in need.”

Jeff is a volunteer employment specialist working in the Refugee & Immigrant Services department at JF&CS. For more than two years, he has volunteered 15-20 hours a week helping refugees find employment. This critical step in refugee resettlement makes it possible for these newcomers to become quickly self-supporting and contributing members of our community.

JF&CS is thrilled to announce that Jeff is being honored with a Jefferson Award, awarded by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (and corporate partners) to people whose volunteer service makes a definitive impact on our community. We could not be more proud to say that Jeff fits this bill in every way.

A typical day at Jewish Family & Children’s Service for Jeff includes meeting with refugees and local employers; teaching job readiness workshops; making skills, language, education and experience assessments with newly-arrived refugees; assisting with job applications and practice interviews; and driving clients to visit employers and job sites.

Jeff’s style and grace wins every heart at JF&CS. A fluent Spanish speaker, a result of over five years with the Peace Corps, Jeff’s approach is warm and direct. Clients, employers and staff alike respect him for his integrity and commitment. He is curious and eager to help in all aspects of welcoming refugees: housing, transportation, wherever he can be useful. He strategizes with the staff and happily reaches out to personal and professional connections.

When asked what motivates him, Jeff says, “This job suits every facet of who I am. I’ve worked with many different cultures, lived abroad, and I’m good at networking. I get such a rush every time I find somebody a job, because then I know that that family is on their way.”

Jeff has also been a mentor to a Bhutanese refugee family for more than three years. He sees them regularly, goes to the kids’ soccer games, and helps them get to medical appointments and jobs. He is considered part of their family; the children call him Grandpa!

About them, Jeff simply says, “Once again I am the winner. Refugees have been through so much and worked hard to get here. My reward is knowing that they’re getting their chance at the American dream.”

Jeff was the Executive Director of Rodef Shalom for twenty-two years before he retired. Though he is usually at JF&CS every week day, he also volunteers elsewhere: running a men’s discussion group and tutoring in the public schools

Jeff Herzog is a wonderful ambassador for JF&CS and for refugees, creating good will for our work and these new Pittsburghers! Congratulations Jeff!


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Lunar New Year celebration returns to welcome the Year of the Fire Rooster

24815253069_e01f4a958b_oFollowing the highly successful first Lunar New Year celebration in Squirrel Hill last February, organizers are proud to co-sponsor the event again and invite you to welcome the Year of the Fire Rooster.

Organizers and partners of the celebration include Uncover Squirrel Hill; Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition (SHUC); JF&CS; Jewish Community Center (JCC); Pittsburgh Chinese Cultural Center; OCA advocates for Asian Pacific Americans, Pittsburgh Chapter; Carnegie Public Library and the Confucius Institute at the University of Pittsburgh.

Lunar New Year begins on Saturday, January 28th, with an afternoon (1 p.m. – 5 p.m.) of live performances, martial arts demonstrations, dance, drummers and other music, acrobatic lion dancers and more at the JCC (5738 Forbes Ave in Squirrel Hill). WQED’s Michael Bartley will serve as emcee.

The Steel Dragon lion dance team will open the festivities. Other confirmed performers
include OCA cultural Youth and adult performance dancers, OCA yo-yos, Yanlai dance
academy, HaiHau Chinese Youth Orchestra from Mt Lebanon, Oom Yung Doe Martial Arts of Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh Taiko, AiLin Chen on the Guchen instrument, Filipino American Association of Pittsburgh dancers, Pittsburgh Chinese School, and Win-win kung fu.

Lunar New Year festivities conclude on Sunday, February 12th, with a parade up Murray
Avenue featuring stunning costumes, music, marching bands and traditional Chinese and Thai dragons. The parade begins at 11 a.m. Grace & Mike Chen, owner of four local Asian
restaurants and founder of the Pittsburgh Chinese Restaurant Association, will be this year’s parade Grand Marshall.

Attendance at both events is free and open to the public. Over the two weeks, participating
Asian restaurants in Squirrel Hill plan to offer special Lunar New Year dishes and deals.
“The partnership that created last year’s first Lunar New Year celebration highlighted this special Asian holiday for all residents of the Pittsburgh region to enjoy,” said Marian Lien, Executive Director of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition. “We continue to gain rich cultural understanding of the diversity of the Asian community. We invite everyone to share in this joyous occasion!”

The rooster is the tenth of the twelve Chinese zodiac, representing both reliability and punctuality. Roosters’ crowing would awaken the ancestors for work. It would exorcise the evil spirits of the night. Ushering in 2017 will mean saying goodbye to the changeability of the monkey and hello to the “being constant” character of the rooster.

Jordan Golin, President & CEO of JF&CS, noted that the event exemplifies the community’s best attributes, its cultural richness and its commitment to diversity and inclusion. “This community thrives because it embraces so many interesting and different cultures,” he said. “It demonstrates that tolerance and good will are the bedrock values of a wonderful place to live and visit.”

Event organizers would like to express sincere thanks to our sponsors: Erie Charitable Giving Network, OCA, Tsingdao and Confucius Institute at the University of Pittsburgh. Read a recent Shady Ave magazine article about Lunar New Year in Squirrel Hill! And be sure to visit the Lunar New Year Pittsburgh Facebook page for details and the latest updates.


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You can help change the lives of refugees and immigrants in our region

We wish to thank so many of you for your generous offers to help new refugees
coming to our country and region. Jewish Family & Children’s Service has been
resettling refugees and supporting immigrants for decades in the Greater
Pittsburgh area. Now more than ever, your support is vitally important.

Financial contributions are welcome in these uncertain times, as we anticipate
significant changes in government policy and funding. Please click here to
contribute (choose “Refugee & Immigrant Services” in the designation dropbox).
In addition to financial donations, there are a multitude of ways you can help
refugees and immigrants right here in our region. Read below for how you can
get involved.

HOST A “GATHERING PARTY” — A Gathering Party helps you
“gather” all the items on one of our lists (please reference the lists below).
We need lots of things to help welcome and resettle refugee families. Your
support now will help them to become an important, contributing part of

CHOOSE A CATEGORY BELOW where you can best contribute, and
open the corresponding PDF attachment to get the details.

FORWARD THIS BLOG TO A FRIEND BY SHARING THE LINK — Simply sharing this link with your networks helps us reach more people with caring hearts in our community.

For more information about donations or supporting JF&CS’s refugee and immigrant services program, please contact us at 412-422-7200 or We deeply appreciate your support!


Entry Level, full time jobs for new refugees.
Higher level, skilled employment for longer term immigrants.
Affordable, multi-bedroom apartments close to bus lines.


Household items for furnishing apartments.
Donate familiar ethnic foods for families from Syria, Iraq, Columbia and Congo.
Comfort Kits that provide the extras that make transitioning easier for families.
Winter coats and accessories for families who are used to warmer climates.
Personal products for adults and youth.


Groups to help immigrants fill out paperwork.
Drivers to take immigrants & refugees to appointments.
Individuals to help with cultural orientation with refugee families.
Advocate for support of current immigration laws.
Babysitting during our Cultural Orientation classes.
Pro-Bono legal support for immigrants.

Jewish Family & Children’s Service
5743 Bartlett Street
Pittsburgh (Squirrel Hill), PA 15217

Posted in Immigration Services, Legal Services, Refugee Services, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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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