For over 80 years, Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) has provided a safety net for individuals and families in the greater Pittsburgh community, offering services and programs for every stage of life and supporting its neighbors through life’s changes and challenges. Services offered help families overcome food insecurity, immigrants become citizens, professionals find new jobs, seniors remain independent, refugees settle into their new homes, and community members find healing from trauma and bereavement.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, JFCS staff have continued working at full capacity and adjusted critical functions to meet the needs of clients and the community.
The Immigrant Workforce Program (IWP) is a JFCS program provided in partnership with Literacy Pittsburgh and All for All, designed to provide a cohort of foreign-born job seekers with necessary skills to navigate the American workforce while also developing their English language skills. Two weeks into the program’s start, Pittsburgh faced widespread shutdowns due to COVID-19, which meant the cohort could no longer meet in person. The staff of JFCS and Literacy Pittsburgh worked to set up a virtual meeting space and online curriculum so that the IWP participants could continue to learn and meet.
The team transitioned to Zoom meetings, leveraging technology tools like Google Drive and Quizlet to provide a meaningful experience and adding twice-weekly breakout sessions to the small group work experience. The participants adapted quickly and seamlessly, and the program continued virtually. As the weeks progressed, relationships began to develop among the participants. Although the program was designed to create connections between participants in a live setting, the depth and breadth of these Zoom-enabled relationships seemed remarkable.
Attendance was high, and group members began arranging their own English conversation groups and practice groups for interviewing skills. The participants started to open up to each other, and the tone of the group discussions changed. They shared stories and anecdotes even as they shared the common experience of isolation amidst the pandemic. They often laughed together at the idioms that a team member shared and began using them. Children and pets were regular guests. Zoom provided windows into the homes and the lives of participants and the teams alike.
Participants looked forward to each session and appreciated the ability to gather twice a week when it was impossible for them to leave their homes. The last session was very emotional, and there were more than a few damp eyes as people shared stories and jokes and made plans to stay in contact with one another. While IWP provided the skills necessary for career success to its participants, during this pandemic it also provided everyone with a much-needed community.
IWP is just one of many programs that JFCS has adapted to follow stay-at-home and social distancing guidelines. Here are just some of the ways JFCS has adapted services:
- Moved counseling and support groups to telephone and online platforms and created new support groups open to the public during this time
- AgeWell Pittsburgh has reached over 360 seniors through telephone and virtual communication, ensuring they are connected to the resources they need at this time.
- JFCS Refugee & Immigrant services worked with the County to train 22 community members about health practices for COVID-19 to communicate important information to the community.
- The Refugee & Immigrant Services team has also worked to make sure refugee families have adequate access to technology for information, education and communication.
- The JFCS Career Development Center has moved services online, providing virtual workshops and events to help job seekers.
- Career counselors helped 144 individuals apply for unemployment compensation.
- The JFCS Squirrel Hill Food Pantry has remained open five days a week, now serving clients with pre-bagged items and delivery services for homebound individuals.