JEVS Human Services clients, staff, leadership and community supporters are slated to gather to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the agency’s Women’s Seder.
On March 19, more than 200 women — JEVS Human Services clients, staff, leadership and community supporters — will gather at Green Valley Country Club to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the agency’s Women’s Seder.
They will read from a creative Haggadah that puts the eternal story of our ancestors’ exodus from slavery to freedom into a contemporary and deeply personal light.
Many of the seder guests have turned to JEVS for assistance in liberating themselves and their families from the bonds of failed relationships, unemployment or underemployment, financial insecurity, illness, disability and despair. They share their stories to “pay it forward” and to help complete the Exodus for other women who are still struggling.
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Dana (the names of the women sharing their stories have been changed to protect their privacy) was experiencing nearly all of these shackles when she turned to two agencies in the Jewish community for support and services — Jewish Family and Children’s Service and JEVS Human Services.
“I was turning 50, and I knew that I had to start my life over,” she said, explaining that her husband was experiencing serious mental health issues and was no longer able to work. “When we turned to JFCS for family counseling, we were far behind in our bills and facing foreclosure on our home.”
The JFCS social worker assessed the family’s needs, provided emotional and emergency financial support and referred Dana to JEVS’ Helping Hands program for assistance in finding a full-time job that would enable her to support herself and her two teenage children.
She met with JEVS career counselor Samara Fritsche and together they strategized about the best way to apply the skills she had acquired during her 25 years as a dance and theater instructor for young children and translate them into a full-time job with benefits.
“Although I had never taught in a classroom, I did have an education degree and only needed six college credits to activate my teaching certificate,” she said, adding that JEVS awarded her a scholarship that enabled her to attend Gratz College and get the credits she needed.
Fritsche also found her a transitional full-time position as a weight-loss counselor at Nutrisystem, giving her the income and benefits she so desperately needed to care for her family. After work, she attended JEVS computer classes and networking sessions and continued to work with Fritsche to develop her resume.
Dana maintains that JEVS gave her the strength she needed to move forward with her life despite continuing economic and personal challenges. “My husband and I divorced and we took a loss on the sale of our home,” she said.
She and her daughter lived with friends for several months while her son decided to move in with a high school classmate whose father agreed to help him with college expenses.
Things are looking up for Dana and her family. She found a full-time job as a dance and movement teacher at a small private school on the Main Line and supplements her income by directing theater productions at a summer day camp.
Dana and her daughter recently found an affordable, two-bedroom apartment near her job and her daughter’s high school. JFCS paid for the first month’s rent, while friends helped out with the security deposit. She shares her story to encourage other women to maintain hope in the face of adversity.
“I tell everyone that when they give to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, they have helped me and so many others,” she said, noting that the Jewish Federation provides funds to many of the programs and services that JFCS and JEVS offer to her and thousands like her.
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Like Dana, Jane was referred to JEVS Career Services after a family counseling session with a JFCS social worker. “My husband and I were facing serious finacial challenges due to the recession and the small business we ran together for 15 years was not turning a profit,” she said. “I knew that I had to look for a new job, but I just didn’t know how.
Jane’s social worker referred her to JEVS, where she, too met with Fritsche. “I came to my first meeting feeling desperate to find a full-time position that would allow me to help put food on the table and pay our bills, yet I was convinced that I was totally unqualified for any position,” she recalled.
Fritsche helped her develop a resume, write a cover letter, enhance her computer skills and, more importantly, to rebuild her self-confidence. “Samara told me that my skills in dealing with customers, inventory control, hiring and firing personnel would be of value to many prospective employers,” she said.
Jane attended some career fairs and within three months, she was offered a job with a company near her Bucks County home. “I started as a receptionist and, several weeks later, was promoted to work in accounts receivables,” she said, adding proudly that “within a year and a half of being hired, I was promoted to office manager, and have served in this capacity for five years.”
“Samara saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and I am profoundly grateful,” Jane enthused. She has recommended JEVS Career Services to many others, including family members.
“Samara is working with my son, who dropped out of college, to redefine his career goals and continue his education, and she has helped my son-in-law to retool his resume, which led to him landing a great new job,” she said.
Once in danger of losing her home, Jane is now able to plan a well-deserved family vacation. “JEVS totally changed my life,” she said.
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Over the past 10 years since the Women’s Seder was first introduced by JEVS Career Strategies, nearly 1,400 women have been helped. More than 1,000 have found employment with an average wage of $20 hour; more than 300 women have participated in computer workshops to develop computer skills; more than 200 took workshops to increase their financial literacy; and more than 250 took part in workshops to hone job search skills such as interviewing and networking.
“We think of the seder as central to the important work we do with our clients,” said Jay Spector, JEVS president and CEO.
“It underscores JEVS’ focus on services for women, using the story of Passover as a metaphor for the issues confronted by many women. As the story of Exodus details the Jewish march to freedom, many of the JEVS program participants are also on a quest for the freedom to find themselves, the freedom to escape the expectations and roles assigned by others and the freedom to become who they want to be.”
Naomi L. Adler, Jewish Federation CEO, applauds the efforts of the agency that strives to “make hope happen” for thousands of community clients.
“How wonderful it is to celebrate the empowering stories of the event participants in the context of a seder. The Jewish Federation honors JEVS and these amazing women on their journey toward professional and personal fulfillment,” she said.
For more information about JEVS Human Services, call 215-854-1874 or visit: jevshumanservices.org.