Since 1935, Jewish Family & Children's Service (JFCS) has been providing behavioral-health and social services to children, family and adults throughout Maricopa County. The organization assists more than 30,000 people each year.

When Rachel lost her job two years ago, she turned to JFCS for help. Through JFCS' Helping Hands program, which offers short-term financial assistance to Jewish individuals or families in Maricopa County, Rachel was able to catch up on bills, heading off what she described as "disaster."

In a letter to JFCS she wrote, "We heard about JFCS and came to you for help. It wasn't easy for us to reach out, but things seemed desperate. ... If not for JFCS, we might have lost our home. ... Remember our story. A little help can make a huge difference."

Another letter, from Margaret, expresses gratitude for the services JFCS offered her mother. "We appreciate your warmth and sensibility towards (my mother) and your sympathetic listening. It is comforting to know that she can count on your help, support and expert advice when she needs it and we cannot be there. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank JFCS for their generosity in making this high quality professional service available to members of the community free of charge."

(The letter writers' names are pseudonyms to protect their identity).

Dr. Michael Zent, JFCS president and CEO, appreciates getting letters of gratitude from clients. "For someone to say, 'I was really down and you helped me,' or 'I was so worried about my child and now I'm not,' or 'We were falling apart as a family, but now we're back together,' in the end that's what it's all about - helping someone at a concrete level," he says.

Celebrating 75 years

On Saturday evening, Oct. 30, the organization will commemorate its 75-year presence in the Valley with an anniversary celebration at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, 122 E.Culver St., Phoenix.

The event includes the debut of the exhibit "JFCS: 75 Years Helping and Healing," which will be on display at the heritage center through Nov. 28. It will feature historical photographs, testimonials, artifacts and video to illustrate the impact JFCS has had in the greater Phoenix area for the last 75 years. The exhibit is the collaborative effort of JFCS and the Arizona Jewish Historical Society, as well as artists, curators and students from the Phoenix community.

Award-winning local author Jana Bommersbach, the recipient of two Don Bolles Awards, Arizona's most acclaimed reporting award, will speak at the event.

"Jana's love of Arizona, her deep knowledge of Phoenix history and her emphasis on the impact that women have historically had on society all make her our most exciting choice of speaker to present the history of JFCS," said Frank Jacobson, vice president of marketing and development for JFCS, in a press release.

From Depression to Recession

To commemorate the anniversary, JFCS commissioned a historical narrative of the organization, written by Arizona State University doctoral student in history Stephanie McBride-Schreiner, and edited by Bommersbach. Schreiner compiled the narrative by using historical archives and interviewing JFCS current and former employees and volunteers.

According to the narrative, the origins of JFCS in Arizona are rooted in the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women, established in 1914. In 1935, when the country was recovering from World War I and in the midst of the Great Depression, NCJW formed a Welfare Committee to support members of the Phoenix Jewish community in need, many of whom came to Arizona seeking opportunity and a healthier climate.

In 1944, members of the Welfare Committee formed the Jewish Social Service Committee of the Jewish Community Council (now the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix). In 1946, the Jewish Social Service Committee became a stand-alone agency.

The agency went through many organizational changes, including establishing itself as a nonprofit corporation, and in 1962 officially became Jewish Family & Children's Service. With the name change, the organization expanded to offer nonsectarian services to serve all members of the community.

During the 1970s, multiple services and programs were added, including a program that aided Native American children in need of adoption. In the '80s and '90s, home-based services, Helping Hands, Creating Peaceful Families and Shelter Without Walls programs were added to the JFCS portfolio.

JFCS in the 21st century

JFCS will continue to respond to social and behavioral health trends, according to Zent. The emphasis will be on expanded services for older adults, an increased focus on technology, the integration of physical health care and primary care, and maximization of shrinking resources.

Today, JFCS assists clients at six locations across the Valley through behavioral- and mental-health services and counseling, older adult programs including care management, JFCS Center for Senior Enrichment, and home-care services; aid to victims of domestic violence, child welfare services, job training and programs for at-risk youth and foster-care youth; and Jewish community services including counseling and emergency financial assistance.

Zent says the breadth and diversity of services JFCS offers makes them unique in the community. "We also have a very good board of directors who are mission-driven to help both the Jewish community and the community at large. We have smart, dedicated, hard-working and sophisticated people at the clinical level of the organization. It's really a tribute to the organization."

For more information about JFCS programs and services, call 602-279-7655 or visit jfcsaz.org.

  • Details

  • What: JFCS 75th anniversary celebration
  • When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30
  • Where: Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, 122 E. Culver St., Phoenix.
  • Cost: $180, includes cocktails and food. Dietary laws observed.
  • Info: 602-567-8305 or jfcsaz.org
  • What: Exhibit
  • When: Oct. 31-Nov. 28
  • Where: Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, 122 E. Culver St., Phoenix.
  • Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Wednesday through Friday; 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Group tours at other hours can be arranged by calling Carrol Gottfried, 602-451-7265.
  • Cost: Free

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