Toward The Future
In the three years since Jewish Apartments & Service and Jewish Home & Aging Services melded into Jewish Senior Life (JSL), the new organization has made significant strides toward accomplishing its mission to deliver the most innovative and highest-quality housing and services for older adults in the Jewish community with compassion and dignity.
Admittedly, the transition had a few bumps, most notably that some in leadership of the “legacy” agency, Jewish Apartments & Services, are no longer with JSL. Yet, that belt-tightening allowed the new agency to eliminate duplications and streamline its workforce.
What has emerged is an efficient, lean organization headed by Rochelle Upfal, who took the helm in June 2010 and has been successfully moving JSL forward.
Jewish Senior Life is the central address for older adults in Detroit’s Jewish community. An agency of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, JSL supports a main focus Federation has outlined as essential to the community.
In caring for seniors, JSL runs seven residential buildings housing about 900 residents and provides services to 1,600 older adults in the community through programs that give care to adults with dementia-related disorders, work with the needs of aging Holocaust survivors, provide outreach to Jewish seniors in non-Jewish facilities, deal with legal guardianship for frail vulnerable adults and more.
And, with the second-largest percentage of Jewish seniors in the country outside of South Florida, according to the 2010 update of Federation’s 2005 Jewish Community Population Study, Detroit has a considerable group of older adults to serve. In fact, out of about 67,000 Jews in Metro Detroit, 24 percent or 17,194 people in Jewish households are age 65 or older — and that percentage will be growing because people are living longer today.
“We are redefining aging,” Upfal said. “It’s a new journey, a different world. There’s a ‘silver tsunami’ of Baby Boomers aging. Sixty is not what it was — just different.
“We are serving retired professionals — doctors, lawyers, professors — the greats of our community. They are using iPads, smartphones and Skyping.”
Along with keeping up with technology, this plan to redefine aging also means finding ways to allow older adults to age in their homes and communities with dignity as well as social and spiritual programs and services.
At JSL’s annual meeting June 20 at Fleischman Residence/Blumberg Plaza on the Applebaum Jewish Community Campus in West Bloomfield, Upfal unveiled a centerpiece of Jewish Senior Life’s three-year strategic plan — the “Village.”
“The village movement started 10 years ago in Boston,” she explained. “It’s a way older adults can age in a community in their own homes. It’s neighbor to neighbor — high touch and low tech.”
The general concept involves identifying a neighborhood with a fairly large population of older adults (age 50+) and getting grassroots buy-in to transform the neighborhood into a “village” where interested neighbors pay annual dues that pay for a concierge-type employee who vets services (from plumbing and roofing, to caregivers and meal preparation), handles requests, facilitates social events and more.
Neighbors begin to watch out for each other; they volunteer to help each other; they form interest groups around shared hobbies (gardening, books, cooking, etc.); and they feel able to stay in homes where they have felt comfortable for years and they most likely own outright.
The local Jewish Fund awarded a start-up grant of $185,000 to fund the Village over three years.
“The board is so committed that we are starting the process now,” Upfal said. “We will change the model of care and serve so many in the way they want to be served.”
JSL is among the first Jewish agencies dealing with older adults that will launch a village. (There are 83 villages in the nation now, concentrated mainly in urban centers.) Extensive research has been conducted, and JSL is finalizing a location, according to Upfal.
Other major JSL accomplishments this year:
• Prentis Jewish Apartments I in Oak Park, JSL’s oldest residence and a Housing and Urban Development-subsidized facility, was awarded tax credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to convert 88 studio apartments into one-bedroom apartments, bringing the total of one-bedrooms there to 133. Currently, 41 studio apartments are vacant. The entire Prentis community will be renovated as well.
“This is a dream come true for JSL and for stabilization of the Oak Park community,” Upfal said. “We’ve talked about this for 20 years; we really need this. We were awarded credits the first time around, and that’s unusual. It’s a long process; we expect to be done in 2-2½ years.”
She added that all residences are fully occupied (except for the studio apartments) and have waiting lists.
• JSL and other Federation agencies are collaborating and coordinating services and programs for older adults under a central number: (248) 661-1836 (chai, double chai).
• Transportation on both the Applebaum and Taubman campuses has increased for all residents with the purchase of three new buses provided by three donors.
• Program professionals now are in place at the seven residential buildings, with a central coordinator as well. They organize activities and promote social interactions among residents.
Ellen Magyar, an 18-year resident at Prentis in Oak Park, said, “We are always in some kind of activity. We go to Frankenmuth, to the mall, out to dinner; and we have wonderful concerts and entertainment. Everything we need is right here. I am happy and grateful.”
• More than 70 percent of staff have completed customer service training, along with staffers at sister agencies, to serve older adults with more compassion, dignity and enhanced knowledge.
• This spring, administration of JSL’s guardianship program was turned over to a public administrator, who has a legal focus. The program has grown to represent 100 people. The four-person department was disbanded and two social workers will be hired as case managers.
Funding And Leadership
Jewish Senior Life’s budget has remained fairly constant the last two years, gaining $49,000 this fiscal year to $19.46 million. Most revenue comes from rent and services; about $1 million is from Federation and the Jewish Fund.
Carol Rosenberg, JSL Foundation director and the agency’s natural comedian, is working on new ways to raise funds for the agency. This year’s Eight Over Eighty program sold out at more than 400 people and raised nearly $150,000.
“Members of JSL’s Auxiliary and Benefactors are a great support,” she said, adding heartfelt thanks to the agency’s more than 1,500 active volunteers who make annual events such as Eight Over Eighty, Walk of Ages and the Oldest Jewish Americans Brunch possible. Volunteers also work directly with seniors.
Regarding future fundraising efforts, she said, “In 2013, we plan to honor community builders from a group we will start called our Presidents Club; we know that there are many presidents still active and living in our community. And we will hold a fundraising Millionaires Party for those in their 40s, 30s and 20s. We really want to attract all generations to support our older adults.
“We know so many seniors are living longer — even longer with good care — that we need tzedakah to help them age in place,” Rosenberg said.
A $1 million gift, the largest in the history of the agency, came this year from Barbara and Douglas Bloom for Acts of Loving Kindness-Gemilut Chasadim. The Blooms started the fund to support older Jewish adults who no longer can pay for their own care. Additional donors are Gary and Lisa Shiffman, the Peter and Clara Weisberg family, and Jack and Miriam Shenkman.
Douglas Bloom, current Federation president, spoke at the annual meeting saying that his connection stems from when his late father-in-law Manny Shapiro lived at Fleischman Residence in the mid-1980s.
“We have a long and meaningful relationship with what is now JSL,” he said. He cited “the exceptional care and commitment of those caring for our seniors.”
Generosity often comes from those who have been touched by JSL.
Recently, Stan Finsilver of West Bloomfield donated a canopy in memory of his brother, Ron, to shield the entrance to the Brown Adult Day Care Center in West Bloomfield, a program that works with adults who have dementia-related disorders.
“I used to drop my brother off at the Brown Adult Day Care Center and if it was raining or snowing, we would both always get soaked,” said Finsilver, who owns Finsilver Construction & Development Corp. in Troy. “After he died [at age 62], I decided to put up a canopy in his memory, to keep everyone who goes there dry and warm.
“I am fortunate that I can donate this. Fran Cook [family life coordinator] used to tell me my brother was always so welcoming and cheery. As one of the younger clients there, he’d welcome everyone when they arrived. It’s a wonderful place. It is easy to feel good about doing something like this when everybody who works there — everybody! — is so caring.”
At the annual meeting, JSL President Nancy Siegel Heinrich said, “The 244 staff members, many part-time, are the heart and soul of the agency. We are as lean as we’ve ever been, and it’s required them to take on a lot more. They do it with skill, grace and commitment.
“JSL is in a better position than ever to offer programs and services to both meet and exceed the needs of the growing population of older adults in our community,” she said.
“Under Rochelle Upfal’s inspiring leadership, the vision of our board of directors and the support of the outstanding staff and volunteers, I know that the goals we have set will be achieved.”
By Keri Guten Cohen, Story Development Editor