JFS to refocus on client needs

By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer

Spurred by financial losses, Dayton’s Jewish Family Services will eliminate programs and services that duplicate those offered in the general community, to focus on projects JFS clients can receive nowhere else.

This will mean closing its congregate meal site at Covenant Manor in Trotwood and its food pantry at that site in favor of collecting items for the Dayton Food Bank, providing home-delivered meals and delivery of pantry items only to clients who require kosher food, and offering transportation services only to those who formally sign on as clients of JFS.

According to Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton CEO Cathy Gardner, the changes — part of a broad JFS strategic planning process — will be in place no later than June 30, when JFS grants from the United Way and Montgomery County expire.

JFS operates under the auspices of the Federation.

Cathy Gardner
Cathy Gardner

“It became apparent that we are not serving our constituency in the best way financially,” Gardner said.

“The best example is to look at our transportation services to see what we get paid by either a grant or an individual. It’s been $3 one way. When we add in rentals of the vehicles, insurance, fuel, costs of the drivers, schedulers, grant writing and monitoring, it actually costs us $36 one way.”

In 2014, transportation and meal costs added up to approximately $85,000 of the total JFS budget of $489,165.

“We serve kosher meals through a grant,” Gardner said. “We receive the grant because we are the only kosher-meal provider in the county, but we are serving these kosher meals to a majority of non-Jewish people.”

Since the Federation accepts county and United Way funding for its JFS meals and transportation, those programs are open to the general community. But this funding has created a tail-wagging-the-dog scenario, Gardner said.

Because of the transportation and nutrition grants from the county and United Way, Gardner said, JFS ended up expanding those services way beyond the Jewish community.

“For instance, transportation in the past five years doubled,” she said. “And the reason it doubled is that people said we have the nicest drivers. But the other reason is that we are the least expensive.”

Once current grant funding expires in June, JFS will only offer transportation services to those signed up for JFS care management services.

“We will make sure that those in the Jewish community will have immediate access to care management services,” Gardner said, “but it’s not a service exclusively for Jewish people.”

She added that JFS will consider increasing the price for transportation.

“We have to analyze what’s reasonable. The most important thing is that whatever we increase it to, nobody who is under our care management will be denied because of inability to pay. We will continue to get clients to their most critical transportation activities.”

JFS provides 300 one-way rides each month. With the new system, Gardner anticipated rides will go down by half.

Kosher food
Only five JFS clients currently require home-delivered kosher food, Gardner said.

Rather than operate a food pantry for a vast majority of clients who don’t need kosher food, JFS will provide kosher food staples along with home-delivered kosher meals to its clients who require it.

“If a JFS client’s care management plan indicates he or she needs kosher food, they’ll have kosher meals delivered to their homes and they’ll have kosher food pantry staples delivered as well,” she said.

Gardner said she hopes local Jewish organizations that now collect non-perishable food items for the JFS Food Pantry will continue to collect items to be distributed to the Dayton Food Bank.

“We are also looking into alternative providers to operate a congregate meal site for the general community at Covenant Manor,” Gardner added.

A steady stream of JFS retirements led Gardner and members of the JFS board to speed up its strategic planning process, which began in December.

Joyce Anderson, JFS transportation coordinator, retired in February. Mary Ann Hemmert, who serves as director of JFS in a part-time capacity, will retire on May 8. Senior Outreach Manager Hyla Weiskind will retire in June.

Jewish Federation’s grant writer, Simone Lotven Sofian, also retires in June.

Continuing on at the JFS offices will be Amy Boyle, LSW, who will run day-to-day social work, counseling, and specific assistance operations, and Senior Program Director Janice Kohn. Jewish Federation Administrative Assistant Karen Steiger is now the JFS transportation coordinator.

Gardner said the Federation will wait to hire a new JFS director until after the strategic planning process; she anticipates the strategic plan will be completed within six months.

“We are not hiring until we know what we need to hire for, and the priorities are set.”

Strategic plan
Much of the heavy lifting for the JFS strategic plan will take place in May and June, Gardner said.

“We’ll research what other Jewish Family Services are doing, conduct a needs-assessment in our community, determine what other services we’re duplicating, with avoidance in mind, and bring together focus groups,” she said.

Along with JFS board members, professional staff and community stakeholders, members of the JFS strategic planning task force will include Bonnie Parish, executive director of Dayton’s Family Service Association and former assistant director of JFS in Columbus; and Lee Sherman, president and CEO of the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

To read the complete April 2015 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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