Shep Englander — Strategic Initiatives
Why We Should Be Proud of Our Community’s COVID-19 Relief Fund
We can all be proud of the COVID-19 Relief Fund, described in my last blog, which is helping those in our community whose financial stability and mental health have been injured by the pandemic. But we can be prouder still of the smart and collaborative ways that our community volunteers and professionals have found to invest those funds.
The Federation provides a bird’s-eye view that brings everyone together to solve big problems. The COVID-19 Relief Fund Allocations Committee, led by Suzette Fisher and Sherri Symson, and staffed by our Director of Strategic Impact, Jan Evans, reviewed dozens of requests to understand priorities and themes across different needs. Here are two stories of how they promoted smart new collaborations.
Protecting Young Adults and Teen Mental Health
The pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives. But it’s been especially hard on those who are just venturing out into adulthood. That’s why the committee invested COVID-19 Relief Funds in special programming at Mercaz Hebrew High School, Cincinnati Hillel, and Hillel at Miami University. Rachel Kaplan, the Executive Director of Cincinnati Hillel, explained the urgency of the need:
Even before COVID, one of the top mental health issues facing college students was loneliness. COVID has amplified that to the tenth degree. Now students are struggling with more loneliness, and it’s compounded by overwhelming uncertainty. Many freshmen are feeling isolated, having met few other students in person and having to do at least 80 percent of their classes online. This grant enables students to choose connections and support—from art therapy to group Jewish learning. And they can come to Hillel to pick up a box that goes with their program.
Whitney Fisch, the Executive Director at Hillel at Miami University, said:
Our biggest concern for college students during this time of COVID is for their mental health. They are being required to do everything we told them not to do—hole up inside, stare at a screen all day, and deprive yourself of face-to-face interactions. As a social worker and former school counselor, my inner alarms are going off. The COVID-19 Relief Fund enables us to train peer educators to help students provide concrete tools for anxiety relief and stress management.
After seeing these spiking needs, the COVID-19 Relief Fund Committee explored with Jewish Family Service (JFS) a way to expand services, and collaboratively they arrived at an innovative “train the trainer” approach. The Youth Mental Health First Aid Training, newly funded by the Relief Fund, will teach adults strategies to support young people who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. Participants learn to identify and respond to signs of mental health and substance use problems and how to connect these youth with needed help. This innovative approach was possible only because the Federation’s Relief Fund Committee collaborated with JFS’s leadership in quick and smart ways.
Working with Rabbis to Protect Financial Stability for Families
Some people facing financial crises may find it easier to talk to their rabbi. The Relief Fund Committee encouraged the strengthening of ongoing collaboration between the congregational rabbis and JFS. The Relief Fund supported both in their efforts to help congregants to confidentially contact JFS professionals. In addition, several rabbis opted to provide an initial set of COVID-19 Relief Fund emergency cash grants directly to their congregants. At the same time, the Relief Fund granted more funding to JFS to stop evictions and foreclosures, and ensure that people have heat and hot water this winter.
With Thanksgiving almost upon us, I feel grateful for the donors who gave generously to the COVID-19 Relief Fund, and for all of the volunteers, professionals, and rabbis who have shown what it looks like for a caring community to come together in a crisis and help those who need it most.
If you, or someone you know, find yourself in need during this crisis, or you wish to volunteer, please reach out to our COVID-19 Hotline.
I wish you and your family these blessings of gratitude, and if you can renew or increase your support during this crucial time, please donate here.