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    • Summer staff retreat

      Jul 18, 2016


      I thought twice about sharing this post with you. “Why?”, you may ask. I wonder if you really want to know about time away from work that the staff spends with one another. I decided that I value this time and it’s worth mentioning here. Each summer, our staff takes a day for a “retreat”. My sentiment is that we work hard, we must enjoy some “down time” together.

      To set the stage, we spend time at the lovely home of a former staff member, a most gracious host. The morning is devoted to team building exercises. This year, the focus was on “group decision making.” We formed two groups and did a sort of “survival” simulation. What was astounding was the outcome. In both groups, staff learned of the power of the group. Had any of the individuals been on their own, they would not have survived. With the wisdom of the group, they each had better chances of survival.


      We then all enjoyed a wonderful spread of food that we prepared for a potluck lunch. After lunch, we devoted discussion to learning about cultural equity, specifically among the LGBTQ population. Fred Mayo, the Board President at the Hudson Valley LGBT Center facilitated a meaningful session. We engaged in stimulating discussion of the ever changing language and climate. This sort of learning experience could not have occurred during the typical Monday through Friday at the office.

      While our summer retreat is not directly helping serve others, it is a time for the staff to be nourished in a different way. We can apply lessons of group dynamics and cultural equity to the work we do. This certainly feeds us. It expands our awareness and resources as we are more available to meet the needs of those we serve.

      So cheers to working hard, and yes, here here, for “playing” hard, too!

      (Note, some staff were regrettably missing from the photo.)

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    • Who is Raquel?

      Jul 1, 2016


      Just a couple of weeks ago, Margie Faber, the Director of Medicaid Service Coordination here at JFS Orange shared a note that Raquel’s sister sent to her. It gives me great pleasure to share a few words from that note here:

      Hello Margie,

      (…) It is with great joy and pride that I say “thank-you” Margie for your benevolence and caring nature; you have been such a positive and dedicated influence for Raquel.  You are not just a gift for Raquel, but for me too.  It is great to see that there are human beings who genuinely care for others and go beyond the call of duty – that person is certainly you.

      Thank you and to others on your team that make such a difference in the lives of those who need it the most!

      Best, C.

      You may be wondering, “Who is Raquel?” I asked Margie to please let you know who Raquel is. Thank you Margie, for putting pen to paper and also, for making a meaningful difference in Raquel’s life.

      “Raquel lives in a beautiful home in Port Jervis where she is supported to live a life with choice, surrounded by peers who consider her like a sister. She enjoys shopping, leisure recreational activities like ball room dancing, coffee clutches, lively discussion and watching movies. She is artistic and expresses her creativity through a choice of mediums. She attends Church every Sunday where she greets her fellow parishioners and participates in some Church activities. She volunteers for the County’s Office for the Aging dining program. Raquel lives in the same county as a beloved sister who she sees monthly and talks on the phone with at least weekly. Raquel is a person with intellectual disabilities.

      For most of her adult life she lived with her mother and grandmother in an apartment in New York City. She attended a day habilitation program every weekday. With her aging relatives, life was somewhat restrictive. Upon the loss of her mother which was a devastating loss to Raquel, her younger sister asked her to move closer to her in Orange County. With Raquel, her sister identified a house that felt like a home, where she now has lived for eight wonderful years. AS Raquel’s Medicaid Service Coordinator, I have provided services for her throughout the past 8 years. Raquel has bloomed, gained self confidence and thrives in an environment where she is heard and respected. Raquel has become a member of the community with a voice.”

      ~Margie Faber

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    • Camp is a “go” this year!

      Jun 24, 2016


      Great news! We learned a couple of weeks ago of a generous financial gift that will enable JFS to hold KidsConnect Camp again this year. The camp is open to children ages 5-18 with any type of disability.

      As many of you know, after nine years of programming, funding had been cut. Throughout 2015, we worked tirelessly to secure monies to keep the program alive. Though there have been some gifts, we were far from achieving our goal to offer summer camp. We never said that the program was “discontinued.” We always said that it was, “on hiatus.” We are thrilled that is going to come back to life on weekdays from August 15-August 26.


      All of our work in fundraising, applying for grants and asking for support paid off. We now have a challenge. Typically, planning takes about 6 months; this year we have about 6 weeks! All hands are on deck!

      Please spread the word. Paula and Megan are available to answer questions at the office on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s. They are hiring staff, setting up interviews for campers, arranging for special programs and doing it all with a smile. We celebrate this news with you. Thank you for sharing in our joy!

      Contact Paula Blumenau at 341-1173, ext. 305 or

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    • Thank you and thank you back!

      Jun 17, 2016

      EPSON MFP image

      Maureen, a woman in her 60’s, has been an extremely independent, professional woman for years. Recently, she had a series of car accidents.   She now depends on others for rides and support. The independent person that she is, she reached out to JFS’s Friendly Visitor Program; she felt she needed a backup plan.

      Doris, Program Director and Carmen, Program Coordinator of our Safety Net Program recently visited Maureen. They conducted a comprehensive intake screening. They learned of both Maureen’s physical and emotional needs. Given her disabilities, aside from rides, Maureen would benefit from someone to talk with regularly. We are in the process of arranging for a volunteer to visit Maureen.

      Just today, they received this sweet “Thank You” note. Maureen hand wrote the following inside:

      “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming to my home and all of your help and kindness. You have given me a feeling of peace of mind and opportunities for some independence that I have not felt since my last accident.

      Sincerely, Maureen”

      Reading these heartfelt beautiful words helps to reinforce the work that we do. Thank YOU Maureen!

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    • Leadership Skills and Learning among LGBTQIA+ and Allies

      May 19, 2016

      group photo cropped

      The statistics are alarming. 34% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Of this population, 60.8% experience at least one type of victimization while homeless including being:

      • threatened
      • robbed
      • assaulted
      • sexually assaulted
      • raped

      With an increase being victimized, there is an increase of depressive symptoms and Post Traumatic Stress symptoms. Thankfully, with all of this devastating information, it is reassuring to know that there is support out there.

      Students from the Newburgh School District’s Gay Straight Alliance called, “PRISM”, with support from Jewish Family Service of Orange County organized the third annual LGBTQIA+ Youth Conference. The student members of PRISM worked for months on organizing this eye-opening conference. They realized that homelessness is an issue that impacts all youth; it can especially touch the lives of youth who identify as LGBTQ. The theme of the conference was “Homelessness”.

      Keynote speakers presented from various domains, agency representatives were stationed at tables where information was disbursed, entertainment and food was provided and teens led workshops. One workshop included an activity that participants were offered the choice and tools to write elected officials to provide for more resources.  They also crafted encouraging words on back packs to be given to homeless youth. The conference was not simply about absorbing information. It also was about taking action!

      How did PRISM students arrive at this? Planning, planning, planning! It was through the five month conference planning, that the youth involved gained leadership skills. They collaborated with one another, brainstormed ideas, negotiated differences, made contacts to community leaders, scheduled the day, designed materials, wrote curriculum for student-led workshops, stretched their skills and took on new roles. This is all part of the beauty of being an agency that has a lead role in the Teens Connect Program. Being a partner with groups like PRISM in organizing such conferences is an expression of JFS Orange realizing its mission:

      To empower all people facing challenging times to live with dignity, hope and strength.

      We give appreciation to sponsors who helped to fund this program: the Orange County Youth Bureau, the Tompkins Charitable Gift Fund and the Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County.  

      For helpful links that address issues discussed go to the “Services” tab and click “Other Resources” on this website.

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    • A personal post from Elise and her husband, Mathew

      Oct 27, 2015

      Maya on the Ganges River

      Dear Friends, Family and Community,

      When our daughter Maya took her life on October 2, our collective hearts shattered into enough pieces to fill the ocean. Each piece reflects memories and questions. Memories we will hold dear; questions that will remain unanswered.  We will never make sense of it all, yet while deep in our grief, we are aware that as a community of youth and caring adults, we have the opportunity to make change.

      Maya made a mistake. A mistake from which there is no retreat, no undoing, no return to a time before what has been done.  That is where we begin to make sense of this.  Maya taught us about joy, about fun, about love.  She brought kindness and compassion to all she met, and for that we are grateful.  And now Maya has taught us about grief, about despair, about loss, in a way we never imagined.  From all of this, the grief to the joy, the despair to the hope, we can only hope to find a middle way, a way of loving kindness, acceptance, and compassion.

      We have invited Rabbi Jonathan Kligler to share his powerful eulogy for Maya. It addresses our youth and our community in a moving and touching way.  It speaks to a way forward, a way to honor Maya’s life by cherishing our own lives and families, by listening and connecting with each other, and by supporting each other.  Please read it, share it, and find your way in the web of receiving and offering support.  The outpouring of love has kept us and our family afloat.

      With gratitude and love,

      e and m signature (2)

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    • A box to help reduce stigmatization

      Oct 9, 2015

      aileen g press conference

      Elise Gold, JFS Orange; Nadia Allen, Mental Health Association in Orange County; Nolly Climes, Rehabilitation Support Services; Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther; Darcie Miller, Commissioner of Mental Health and Social Services for Orange County; Peggy Spagnola, MHA Orange and NAMI; Glenn Liebman, Mental Health Association in New York State

      If you’ve ever heard Assemblymember Aileen Gunther talk, you know that she is passionate about changing the lives of people with mental illness. She was brilliantly placed in the role of chairperson on the Committee for Mental Health in the NYS Assembly. Recently, I was honored to attend a press conference in which Aileen delivered a message. The intention behind the meeting was to increase awareness and motivate action about a certain bill. This bill, related to ending stigma around mental illness, that NYS’s Senate and Assembly passed, is going before Governor Andrew Cuomo. Though Aileen’s zeal may not come across in my words, I’d like to share some notes of interest:

      • One in five people are impacted directly by mental illness each year
      • Everyone is impacted; we all know people in our families and community with mental illness
      • Mental illness is treatable. Treatment leads to recovery
      • People with mental illnesses often isolate
      • Due to the stigma that accompanies mental illness, people are reluctant to seek treatment or services.

      The bill we are speaking of is a “Mental Health Tax Check-Off”. I imagine that you are familiar with the menu of boxes that can be checked on state tax returns. This is the spot that taxpayers can choose to support Alzheimer’s research, breast cancer awareness, fish and wildlife management, the US Olympic Committee and other efforts. Having the option of a check off a “mental health box” would make it possible for funds to be allocated by the State Office of Mental Health. The resources would provide grants to organizations dedicated to eliminating the stigma.

      From Assemblymember Gunther, we heard, “the goal of this legislation is to shine some light in the dark places and begin to talk about and treatment mental illness honestly and openly like any other illness because it is like any other illness.”

      At JFS Orange, our mission is to “empower all people facing challenging times to live with dignity, hope and strength”. Part of the foundation of what we do comes from a Jewish value of “Tikkun Olam”, which can be interpreted as “making the world a better place”. I encourage you to stand with me and call the governor; he has the choice to approve or veto the bill. Thank you for doing your part and thanks to Aileen for fiercely advocating, educating and spreading the word. Together, let us work towards the de-stigmatization of mental illness.

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    • Cheers!

      Oct 2, 2015

      vicki 2a

      Vicki Bedford brings so much to those she serves

      It happened so fast. We were offered the opportunity to apply for a grant through the Orange County Office for the Aging in the spring. We applied immediately, were awarded the grant and had to get on board to offer “Health Promotion and Mental Services” for the Community Services for the Elderly Program. When faced with hiring a therapist to offer home bound counseling, some counseling in the office, and run peer support groups, for us it was a “no brainer”. We knew Vicki Bedford from her time as a graduate level intern with JFS Orange. She brings so much to all of the work that she does and she shines so brightly; what a perfect match! Vicki started this summer. She’s agreed to share some pearls in our blog. There are too many gems for one posting, so stay tuned; I’ll be sharing more over time. I sincerely appreciate how Vicki values the mind/ body connection.

      “Many people face regular bouts of pain and chronic pain for a variety of reasons—arthritis, neuropathy, migraine, bone loss, muscle weakness, and, quite simply, aging. A growing number of people are taking prescription medications or narcotics to manage that pain.

      Here is a simple idea to help you live with chronic pain without suffering:

      Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

      Every cell in your body requires lubrication. Are you drinking enough water? It is recommended that you drink eight 8 ounce glasses of water each day. Spend some time acquainting yourself with how much this actually means—measure your cups and glasses, and keep a written tally of the fluids you take in on a daily basis.

      Buy yourself a BPA-free water bottle and carry it with you during the day.

      Juices counts too… but try diluting 8 oz. of juice with 8 oz. of water to reduce sugar intake.

      Don’t forget tomatoes, watermelon, broth, and herbal tea. These are all good ways to increase your daily fluid intake.

      Caffeinated drinks deplete water, so if you have coffee or soda, drink more water.”

      Over the course of time, Vicki will discuss the importance of “Staying Active” and “Mindfulness”. To learn more about Vicki’s peer support groups, please call and leave her a message: 845-341-1173 ext. 395. With a glass of water in my hand, I’m offering a toast to Vicki’s return!

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    • A smile goes a long way

      Sep 25, 2015


      It’s been just over a month, and Caryn Sobel is already making a difference

      One of the signature programs at JFS Orange is the Friendly Visitor Program; the role of Program Coordinator is critical. We’re pleased to introduce Caryn Sobel, who was recently hired in this role. Caryn is highly motivated and has a big heart. She is extremely organized, a quick learner and has vision. All of these qualities make Caryn a wonderful addition to the “family” of staff at JFS Orange.

      Caryn’s motivation comes from wanting to make the world a better place. She cares deeply about helping people and making a difference. She gives much thought to what is going on in the world and what needs to be done. Caryn witnessed firsthand the process of care given to her aging grandparents. She learned about the challenges of caregivers and wished for a way to make an impact in this realm.

      When asked how to deal with difficult situations, Caryn spoke of being kind, patient, understanding and offering a hand to hold. “A smile goes a long way.” She deeply values connecting with people, as she knows how connections have touched her.

      Formerly, as a producer of documentaries, Caryn learned how to multi-task! There are so many different facets to film making, including each person’s agenda that they bring. She was pivotal in keeping it all together and on time. Those skills are of great value here. On any given day, her “to-do” list may go out the window, as crises arise and she strives to put out the fires. Here’s where the quick learning comes in!

      Ultimately, Caryn sees opportunities at JFs Orange, and in the Friendly Visitor Program to be endless. She recalls hearing how just about 25 years ago, Doris (her supervisor, and Program Director), was working from her living room. It is remarkable how the program has grown since then. While at the office, hearing the warmth in the tones of voice, how people solve problems, and do their best in helping people through our programs has impressed Caryn. She too, wants to do good work that inspires others. We are so glad that Caryn joined our team; please join me in welcoming her!


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    • Making lemonade from lemons

      Sep 18, 2015


      Erin Kackos, James’s Prevocational Specialist is a pillar of support for James.

      Allow me to introduce you to James Carr! James is a volunteer, here at the JFS Orange office. A big initiative is underway to close down work centers (formerly called “workshops”) for people with disabilities. The initiative by Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) is motivated by an attempt to move away from institutionalization and towards community inclusion. It was last winter when we were approached by Valerie Livingston Litt, Business and Community Development Team Leader of Access; Supports for Living, to hire people from their program.

      “Well,” I thought, “we are fully staffed now, and are not hiring, but we could give someone a volunteer opportunity to have some office experience”. Several staff at JFS put our heads together; there surely are things that we need help with. James was eager to step in and assist. He comes to our office on a weekly basis, ready to water plants, do our recycling and have a hand at the computer with data entry. Aside from giving James these opportunities, we’ve focused on office etiquette. What does it mean to:

      • take responsibility for a job through its completion?
      • check in with a supervisor about the need for more work?
      • be a part of a team?
      • show caring for one another by offering a genuine hello or good-bye?

      When I asked James about his work experience at JFS Orange, he shared, “I like it because you guys make me feel good inside and you guys are like a family to me. Also, I like to help you guys out. I like all the work. It’s giving me some office experience. I like doing the data entry, learning more about Excel and Word. Watering the plants gives me the experience I can use in a landscaping job in the future. That’s why I like working here. I’m hoping to have an outside job soon.”

      It’s true; we do feel like James is part of our family. Aside from carrying weight through his work in the office, we do consider him part of our family of staff. This relationship is a gift all around; we give and we receive, as does James. Our connection to James is a beautiful expression of our mission; to empower all people facing challenging times to live with dignity, hope and strength.

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