Jewish Agencies Making Plans to Reopen

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JRA volunteers pack food and toiletries. Photo by Elvera Gurevich

By Leah Snyderman

Jewish agencies and organizations went virtual with the rest of the world when the pandemic hit, but with vaccination rates slowly rising and government mandates easing, those organizations are now planning their returns.

Here’s a look at the status of a few larger organizations:


Golden Slipper Gems
Golden Slipper Gems, which offers learning programs and services for older adults, was forced to move to an entirely virtual platform, but it didn’t stop the organization from holding its classes and other programs.

“It’s been incredibly more successful than we thought it would be,” Executive Director Marcia Garrell said.

Golden Slipper Gems is using the summer to test out and prepare for a new hybrid model.
The organization expects to be back in-person in October with a plan to Zoom professors live, so people who aren’t comfortable with or able to come can still participate.

“We hope most of our people will come back in person because the socialization aspect of what Golden Slipper Gems does is very important,” Garrell said.

In September, Golden Gems will host a tour of Budapest, where someone who lives in the city will take participants on a walking tour via Zoom. The organization is especially excited to bring back its movie courses, which were a favorite of many.

JEVS Human Services
JEVS Human Services maintained a mix of virtual and in-person programming during the pandemic.

Several programs remained open and in-person the entire time, including services in community homes for adults with developmental disabilities, treatment clinics and home health services. Career programs and services and youth programs went online.
Now, programs that were virtual are gradually returning to in-person. JEVS expects to hold many of these programs right after Labor Day.

JEVS is especially looking forward to bringing back its in-person mental health programs.
“Although we’re really proud of what we’ve been able to do virtually, being able to serve clients safely in-person is really going to help people get to the next step of their goals,” said Kristen Rantanen, senior vice president of communications and public affairs.

“Connection is what’s going to help folks that have been really hurt by the pandemic move forward.”

Jewish Relief Agency
JRA continued its programs for families struggling with food insecurity throughout the pandemic.

“We are proud to say that with the help of our dedicated volunteers, staff, donors, community partners and the Jewish Federation, not one box of food went undelivered over the course of the pandemic,” said Elvera Gurevich, program and communications manager.
The volunteer program recently returned to its full, pre-pandemic schedule, and the cap on volunteers was lifted.

In addition, JRA Juniors is being reinitiated for families with children under the age of 12, and it was made safe for unvaccinated kids. It was previously called Tiny Tots and was for families with kids under 6, but JRA expanded it and upped the age so families could participate together.

JRA is ecstatic to welcome back volunteers.

“We need all the help we can get packing boxes at our warehouse, where it’s easy to social distance and masks are required,” Gurevich said.

The next food distribution is Aug. 15 at 10 a.m. and will be the largest Rosh Hashanah distribution in the organization’s history.

KleinLife
Like JRA, KleinLife never stopped its vital programs. Their Home Delivered Meals program continued, and the organization began virtual programming for seniors.

KleinLife began a soft opening to slowly start to switch back to its pre-pandemic schedule.

The fitness center and swimming pool are open for members through a reservation system, summer day camp is in full operation and the weekly farmers market is reopened.
Marketing Director Stephanie Hampson said Kleinlife is constantly referring to Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines and assessing programs on an ongoing basis. Things can change fast, so one of the biggest challenges is ensuring compliance with the most-recent guidelines and restrictions.

Overall, KleinLife is eager to bring back its programs.

“Knowing that we’re getting closer to bringing back that vibrancy to our organization makes us excited,” Hampson said.

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Southern New Jersey
After switching to a remote format during the pandemic, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Southern New Jersey is making plans to reopen.

It’s now operating under a hybrid schedule with some programs in person, but the majority remain virtual. The staff is looking forward to reinstating its Project Rainbow groups for LGBTQ+ teenagers and Hope & Healing and Cafe Europa programs for Holocaust survivors.
“This vulnerable population, in particular, really needs in-person contact whenever possible,” Director of Marketing and Communications Rachael Ovitz said.

Under the hybrid model, staff is working in the office up to two days per week, with a full return by Oct. 4.

Leah Snyderman is an intern for Jewish Exponent.

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