Michael Eisinger

The courageous members of Jewish Detroit who lived through the Holocaust are a cherished part of our community. But as they age, their experiences and their needs could fade to the periphery of the community’s consciousness without deliberate outreach and support from caring individuals and organizations.

JFS has been actively committed to serving Survivors for decades. In the last year, the agency has launched a concerted campaign to understand the evolving needs of the Survivor community, establishing a meaningful dialogue with hundreds of Survivors and their families.

In the process JFS has connected with and enrolled more than 150 eligible Survivors who weren’t previously accessing the support available through the agency’s programs, all while implementing innovative approaches to help address the greatest challenges this special group faces.

For nearly 20 years, JFS has provided specialized programs to help Survivors access services like home care, escorted transportation, emergency assistance and more. For nearly 60 years, the agency has assisted Survivors to access restitution from the German government and other institutions complicit in the Holocaust.

Assessing the needs today

As these special members of our community age, their needs have gradually changed and increased. Last fall, JFS began rolling out an ambitious needs assessment to help the agency determine the greatest needs of Survivors as they stand today.

Boris Mitler
JFS Geriatric Care Manager Boris Mitler was hired to serve an influx of survivors.

“Jewish Family Service has been committed to being there for Survivors for most of the agency’s lifetime,” said JFS CEO Perry Ohren. “We needed to ensure that the support we provide truly addresses the nature and degree of the need in the community.”

Michael Eisinger is an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer who was hired by JFS in September through a partnership with the VISTA program, the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies and a Special Envoy for Holocaust Survivors appointed by the White House.

VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America, and is a special division of AmeriCorps devoted to building the capacity of an organization. Eisinger is one of a dozen VISTAs currently working on improving supports for Survivors around the country.

A recent graduate of West Chester University of Pennsylvania with a Masters in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Eisinger came to JFS in August for the rare opportunity to help craft solutions that will directly help Survivors.

“My initial goal was to find out what the community really needed,” Eisinger said. “We got a lot of great feedback, but we were also surprised by the many new Survivors this survey helped us reach. Just by reaching out and asking what they needed, the word got out to a lot of people who are now able to access services that they didn’t know they were eligible for.”

To compile a comprehensive needs assessment,  a survey was sent out to 500 Survivors, of whom 177 responded, revealing a number of patterns and trends.

For example, a majority of respondents stated that a lack of transportation options is a serious problem for them. JFS operates a robust escorted transportation program providing more than 30,000 rides each year to older adults and others with mobility challenges. Even with heavy subsidies designed to make the service affordable, many Survivors said that the cost of getting around was a problem.

“What we’ve been able to do is reduce the co-pays so that clients who are accessing it don’t have to think so hard about whether they can afford to take a ride to the doctor, or any other appointment,” said Risa Berris, Geriatric Care Management Director at JFS.

“For some people, the difference between $10 and $2 is a lot for a trip, so hopefully people who hadn’t been able to access it now can. It appears that is what’s happening.”

A timely boost to JFS services to Survivors

A well-timed influx in available funding for 2015 has helped support these increased subsidies, along with other ramped-up services for Survivors at JFS. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) coordinates restitution to Survivors. In addition to providing direct payments, the Claims Conference also administers funds negotiated with the German government for social services that support Survivors as they age.

In late 2014, the Claims Conference announced it would provide an increase of more than $1 million to bolster Survivor services at JFS. The allocation effectively doubled the financial resources available to the agency from one fiscal year to the next.

It also aligned fortuitously with Eisinger’s needs assessment, which was highlighting needs as funds were becoming available to help address them.

“The fact that we were doing the needs assessment at the same time that we found out about the increase was helpful,” Berris said. “It’s given us the ability to bring in the staff to do the work that’s needed.”

In addition to providing more support for transportation, the additional funds have allowed JFS to increase homecare services for Survivors, providing greatly expanded support when the need is critical.

Increased food assistance has been rolled out for low-income Survivors, offering $75 per person each month to help fixed incomes stretch further.

Meanwhile, important but expensive minor home modifications are now easier to tackle, as Claims Conference funds have helped JFS hire qualified contractors to modify living spaces to help Survivors age in place.

All of these needs were highlighted in the responses to the survey, and many of the 500-plus Survivors served through JFS already are benefiting from these and other expanded services.

“Serving the needs of Holocaust Survivors is at the very core of Jewish Family Service’s mission,” Ohren said. “Every member of our community deserves compassionate support, but working to help Survivors is a special privilege. There is no more important job for JFS.”

That’s why JFS is proud of its efforts in support of Survivors over the past 60 years, and so committed to helping for decades still to come.