In 2009, I was struggling with a simple, but important decision. A decision with which, I am sure each of you also has struggled. I was trying to think of the perfect Mother’s Day gift.
My mother, Joy Nachman, has been a rock in my life. She’s strong, intelligent and beautiful, and always has stood by me. At times, she’s held me up, including one memorable occasion when she carried me, literally, up Mt. Masada.
As every mother does, she is always asking herself what she could have done differently, could have done better, for her children. Is what she gave enough? What gift could I bestow that would answer those questions for her? That would be a meaningful statement about her role and importance in my life?
I wanted to show my mom that her children are caring and charitable individuals, because of her. I wanted her to know that her children are creative, have dreams and can pursue them, because of her. I wanted her to see that her children are independent, yet value family above all else, that we are proud and grateful to have a mother like her.
It should go without saying that all of the above also pertains to my father, Allan Nachman, who we also love dearly. But this is not a story about him, and I know he agrees with everything I’ve said about Mom.
As I thought about Mother’s Day gifts that could tell my mother all that I wanted to say, each idea fell far short. With a lot of time and thought, however, an idea for a different kind of gift took shape.
For many years, I had donated to a Jewish women’s initiative that sent flowers to abused and battered women on Mother’s Day, and I loved the idea of bringing happiness to women who had mostly tsuris (trouble) in their lives. My mother was always touched when she received the tribute card informing her that my donation in her honor had brought some light into the life of a woman who needed it. I knew she appreciated my small donation. It was enough for her, but it wasn’t enough for me.
I wanted to take that one step further, to bring joy to women in our own community that may have none. Initially, I reached out to that organization to see if we could implement the same type of project here and found out that, in fact, due to the nature of the organization, it isn’t possible to deliver flowers directly to the women in their care as it would severely compromise their much needed anonymity and protection. I needed to look elsewhere, but this information had given me a better idea of the scope I was aiming for.
With this new information in my mind, I started looking for an alternative type of organization which would be in a position to give flowers, or any small and lovely token, as a Mother’s Day gift to mothers who may otherwise go unnoticed. I couldn’t ask my own mother without spoiling the surprise, so I turned to her sister, my aunt, Melissa Lax. She put me in touch with Amy Haimann and Jewish Family Service, and The Joy Project was born.
Amy was amazing from the very beginning. With unwavering belief in the concept, immense support and creativity, she helped me build a Mother’s Day program. With the goals of providing a gift to Mothers in our community so that no mother was ‘left behind’ on Mother’s Day and maybe even raising a few dollars for JFS, it was immediately clear what we would call our new project.
During the first year, with just a few short weeks’ notice, and with the support and invaluable assistance from my cousin Laurel Orley — who managed to get lovely hair products and lotions donated for gift baskets for the mothers — we were able to accomplish our goal of making sure that each mother in JFS’s care received a special acknowledgement of the value and dedication that comes with Motherhood.
We carried the project through to a second year, gathering 300 gift baskets and raising over $5,000 for women and children in need. We were ecstatic, and decided it was time to go big or go home. A conversation I had one day with my friend Marla changed the course of the Project dramatically. For the past four years, the Tapper family has bought and donated beautiful gifts to The Joy Project mothers, assisted us with marketing (Uncle Steven (Tapper) even saved me from having a panic attack when I had to appear with him on TV) and been amazing friends to us. It is without question that this Project could not have grown to this extent without their passion and support.
The Joy Project is now entering its sixth year and, as I have been each year, I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support the women in our community show for not only the women in their own lives, but for the clients of Jewish Family Service, these women in crisis, total strangers to us, and yet, women that COULD be, that ARE each and every one of us. They are daughters, sisters, mothers, lovers, friends, many of whom struggle in silent grief over what has become of their lives and yet put on a smile as they move through our community every day with only an agency like Jewish Family Services to guide and assist them in rebuilding what they have lost.
Last year, the community gave almost $40,000 in a breath-taking display of generosity. Due to Marlee’s by Tapper’s sponsorship of the gifts, all of those funds go directly to help pay for programs at JFS that change and, in some cases, save lives. JFS provides mental health counseling, emergency assistance, older adult services, domestic violence intervention and many other services to women of all ages in our community, all of which are bolstered by The Joy Project. I invite you to take a moment to peruse the Jewish Family Services website and become more familiar with their crucial work in the community.
Thanks to Ellyn Davidson and her amazing team at Brogan & Partners, the marketing and tribute side of the program has grown as well. This year, as we have each year in the past, we’ll be sending tribute cards with custom messages to the mothers, daughters, aunts, grandmothers, neighbors and friends who are honored by our donors. The tribute cards are even more gorgeous, thanks to the team at Brogan. Check out our new design on Facebook. To stay in the loop, like our page www.Facebook.com/jfsjoyproject, and post a photo of yourself and a Mother who has impacted your life. We love to see the photos and hear the stories!
No gift could ever show our mothers how much we love, respect and appreciate them, but The Joy Project is a good place to start.
Please join me in spreading joy and sharing the love this Mother’s Day. You can learn more about The Joy Project or make an online gift at jfsjoyproject.org.