JFCS Building A Better Community For All

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Starting from its rather humble beginnings as a very small nonprofit social service agency 30 years ago, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of the Suncoast (JFCS) was founded to help those in need within the community. Over the years, it has lived up to its slogan, “When You Can’t Do It Alone,” by providing a hand up to people in all walks and stages of life. Its reach is woven into the fabric of the community to such a degree that mentioning JFCS is likely to elicit a story from someone who has either received help from the agency personally or knows another person who has.

“When I joined JFCS in 1993, it was a small counseling center with a Russian resettlement program and a small core of volunteers to work with the refugees. We were the only organization in the community doing resettlement of former Soviet Jews,” said Rose Chapman, CEO Emerita, who has been with JFCS for 24 of its 30-year history. “My first goal was to get to know the community and see what was being offered in social service and counseling. I wanted to find the gaps, determine what was needed and provide programming to fill those needs in the community.”

The first need Chapman identified and the agency began addressing concerned the plight of the many isolated seniors within the community. “Many were very lonely and depressed, and no one was looking to their needs,” she said. “I hired licensed clinical social workers to provide services to seniors in their homes, and then expanded the program to provide transportation to our offices for counseling, lunch and a program.” That launched the Senior Outreach Services program, which started with three seniors and is now held four days a week with more than 100 seniors attending.

Chapman next turned her attention to children, specifically those who were suspended from school. Her goal was to divert them from a negative progression that would be difficult for them to overcome. “Children would get suspended and sent home. Often their parents worked, so many got in trouble. They fell behind in their schoolwork and failed to pass to the next grade,” she said. To circumvent this detrimental trajectory, JFCS offered the Safe Alternative to Out of School Suspension programs, which provides services to at-risk youth.

This common-sense approach to tackling community needs at their roots has permeated program development at JFCS over the years. However, to continue the growth required to address those needs required a more diversified approach to fundraising. “When I came here we did absolutely no fundraising and relied heavily on the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation,” Chapman said. JFCS began to secure government grant funding for programs and, when its leadership decided to build a new building on Fruitville Road in 1999, it was able to build with no debt through a successful capital campaign. In 2009, that facility was expanded to 15,000 square feet, and in 2013, the Flanzer Philanthropic Trust donated a building on Ringling Boulevard to JFCS.

Currently, JFCS provides more than 25 programs at 16 locations throughout the community. It has grown from a $200,000 agency into an $8.5 million agency with a staff of 114 that provided more than 75,000 services to more than 15,000 individuals in 2015. In addition to maintaining its original legacy of providing high-quality counseling services, other programs include Alzheimer’s support, caregiver support and respite and bereavement services, a food pantry, parenting skills programs, homelessness prevention including for very low income veterans, cancer support services, programming for differently-abled individuals and their families, a range of adolescent diversion and assistance programs, and case management.

All client services are provided on a non-denominational basis, although JFCS retains strong support from the local Jewish community. “About 90 percent of our donors are Jewish, while about 75 percent of our clients are not Jewish,” Chapman said. “It has been Jewish tradition to take care of the community wherever they are.” That philosophy has infused JFCS since its founding, along with a belief in helping people achieve self-sufficiency in their lives.

“I used to say we provide services from the cradle to the grave, but we really go beyond that by offering parenting skills to expectant parents and bereavement services,” she said. “I also used to call JFCS the community’s best-kept secret, but I’m not sure it’s a secret anymore. It’s hard to meet someone and tell them I work for JFCS without them telling me how we have helped them or someone they know.”

Chapman has recently assumed the CEO Emeritus position where she will work with Heidi Brown, who was named the new JFCS President and CEO last month. Chapman plans to step from behind the scenes to build JFCS’ resources and raise awareness within the community. “Even after all these years, I get to our building and say ‘wow’,” she said. “It still amazes me to see the good work our staff has done in this community. They are a wonderful group of people doing fine, dedicated work.”

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