Jewish Family Services of Greater Charleston (JFSGC) was poised for a major organizational shift at the start of 2020; then, the pandemic hit. Like many nonprofits, JFSGC suddenly faced a series of big decisions around programming, fundraising, and safety protocols. But CEO Sara Tick was committed to her strategic plan. Together with her team, she took these decisions in stride.
Typically, a Jewish Family Services (JFS) affiliate works in tandem with its respective Jewish Federation and is guided by the fundamental Jewish values of tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (repair of the world). These nonprofits strive to empower individuals and families, provide resources and financial assistance for the vulnerable, and help seniors age with dignity.
Sometimes, a Jewish Federation will act as the parent organization for a JFS entity, which was the case in Charleston. Sara observes: “A lot of JFSes have mutually beneficial partnerships with their Federations. They can help financially support them and provide important infrastructure. And it’s helpful for Federations because JFS does so much outreach in the community, which raises awareness for donor cultivation and volunteer engagement.”
As a JFS grows, it often becomes financially self-sustaining and increases capacity. It’s no surprise that this happened in Charleston, a thriving city attracting global attention.
Sara shares, “We started to see more seniors retiring here instead of the traditional Florida…What started as just me working in a division of the Federation turned into a staff with full- and part-time workers, a chaplain, and an admin team. We’ve always had a separate mission, so once you’re operating in that place, it’s nice to have your own board and focus on what makes JFS great for the community.”
TLLF’s Justin Steinschriber is the Senior Program Officer for the Jewish Values portfolio. Of the JFSGC pivot, he remarked:
Justin continues: “For years they laid the groundwork following the strategic plan for the transition, with a focus on staffing, programming, financial stability and fiduciary oversight. That made the final piece, official independence, flow naturally.”
Sara admits that Covid-19 made the transition stressful but adds: “Launching [the new] JFSGC during the pandemic really highlighted why we have to exist. Our community was in complete emotional and financial crisis, in need of healing and emergency aid. All the elements of the JFSGC mission were essential.”
This heightened need for wraparound care also motivated donors to make significant gifts – which is impressive considering the overlap that often occurs with JFS and Federation supporters. Sara explains that donor fatigue is critical to address before separating a JFS from its Jewish Federation because the Federation runs what is known as the annual community campaign. Each year, donors contribute to a fund that the Federation then allocates to qualifying Jewish organizations – such as Jewish day schools, synagogues, the JFS and more.
“We encouraged supplemental giving to JFSGC on top of an annual campaign pledge, and it never felt like we were competing,” Sara shares.
Sara also attributes the success of the launch to her team. “I’ve been very lucky that my whole staff stayed healthy. Although I’m a first-time CEO, I’ve been with JFSGC for many years, and I felt a different level of responsibility. I’m a licensed family therapist and mental health is really important to me. I always want my staff and board to feel supported, protected, and safe.”
Along with the rest of the world, JFSGC adopted the best practice of virtual service delivery in 2020. Staff set up a drive-thru food pantry to ensure people were being fed. And Director of Senior Outreach Judy Hinman helped ensure seniors could age securely in their homes.
Sara adds, “Senior care is certainly one of our most expensive financial commitments but it’s incredibly high on our priority list. For example, we’re currently overseeing the care of a 102-year-old Holocaust survivor; without JFSGC, she would have been uprooted and moved into a nursing home….Senior care is very complicated and the cases are nuanced. But Judy is an expert and so loved by our community. Everyone always says I wish I had a Judy Hinman in our city!”
JFSGC is a vital resource for the Jewish population of Charleston. And, as the region bears the weight of the ongoing pandemic, Sara’s team is equipped to meet needs with compassion. Sara reflects:
To date, The Leon Levine Foundation supports seven JFS organizations and has awarded $95,000 to JFSGC. If you’d like to learn more about this JFS branch, click here.