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 info@jfcspgh.org. 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

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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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