August 29, 2023

Providing Coffee, Bagels, and the Table to Gather Around

Marian Marlowe Director of Local Partnerships

Sometimes I joke about the power of a cup of coffee and a bagel. It’s true that a little caffeine and some sustenance may help when we’re tackling a challenge. At Federation, we also find that bringing our local partners together for breakfast yields real benefits. 

When community members think of Federation, some may think about the dollars it raises and allocates to agencies serving the Jewish community. This certainly is one of Federation’s roles. Federation, however, provides more than allocations. 

Federation plays an important role in Jewish communal life by convening partners and supporting collaborations. Some of the projects of Federation’s CARES department, the department focused on the needs of older adults, illustrate this. 

In Greater MetroWest, CARES works with and regularly convenes both professionals and lay leaders from a network of ten agencies and one department that provide a wide range of services for older adults.     

Thanks to funding from the Hy & Sadie Sussman Fund for Eldercare & Aging in Place, CARES runs a professional development day annually and invites each of its partners to send a professional to serve on a planning committee. Each fall, this committee chooses a topic, selects a speaker, and plans the program, which takes place during Older Americans Month each May.  

In 2016, the committee chose to address the topic of elder abuse and those who attended the session heard from a physician and a social worker about the signs and symptoms of elder abuse and learned how shockingly common it is.   

CARES then joined other forward-thinking communities to take on elder abuse. It convened community leaders and studied how other communities were tackling the issue. The idea of Project CEASSE (Combatting Elder Abuse through Supportive Services and Education) was born. Today, Project CEASSE provides community education, counseling, case management, homecare/respite services and referrals, and is an important, successful program of Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey (JFS CNJ), one of the CARES constituent partner agencies. JFS CNJ’s Executive Director stated that “it’s through the network/your leadership that… [JFS CNJ] got… [a] grant for elder abuse work.”   

In 2018, CARES received a grant from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to serve Holocaust survivors. The grant required us to convene a leadership council comprised of community professionals along with individuals with personal knowledge of the needs of survivors.  The council was charged with identifying unmet needs of survivors and determining effective ways of addressing them and decided to use the JFNA funds to support programs run by JFS CNJ, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest (JFS MW), and Federation’s Chaplaincy department.   

Then, in 2020, JFNA asked Federation to expand its reach and offered another round of funding, this time for services for survivors as well as services for other older adults with a history of trauma. We convened an expanded leadership council which continued to fund programs for survivors and directed funding to a program run by JFS MW in South Orange/Maplewood for older adults, many of whom have been victims of systemic racism, and to Project CEASSE.   

Yet another example of the power of convening happened when the leadership council learned of the need for high quality dental care for survivors. We sought an excellent source of these services and were fortunate to establish a partnership with the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM) and an inspired donor. Federation provided training in Person Centered Trauma Informed care to RSDM and approximately 69 Holocaust survivors have been cared for at no cost to themselves. 

One of CARES’s most recent coffee and bagel moments took place in May at the 2023 CARES Professional Development Day, entitled “Understanding Dementia and Caregiver Grief and Loss.” Attendees and those on the planning committee gained more than new information and techniques, and one planning committee member summed it up this way:  

“New to the community…, I had the unique opportunity to see how… Federation… cares for its older adult community. With over 50 professionals from these partner agencies in the room, learning and networking, I can see all the good that came out of us convening to increase our knowledge. For me, meeting in-person those that I had been phoning or emailing was an added benefit to the day, and I will continue to make referrals to all the incredible agencies and services….” 

So, yes, it is true that Federation is a fundraising organization that allocates dollars to partner agencies; but Federation is also the organization that provides the table around which partners come together to think broadly about community needs. And, if we have coffee and a bagel together? A new idea or program might just arise that will make Greater MetroWest an even stronger community.