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60 years of giving… quietly: Hartford agency helps needy Jewish children

JCSO incoming president Ursula Marx and outgoing president Don Miller. Photo by Ira Nozik

Ask incoming board president Ursula Marx why she is involved in the Jewish Children’s Service Organization (JCSO) and she seems a little surprised by the question.
“It’s a charity that needs support,” she says. “I think it’s a worthwhile organization.”
JCSO assistant treasurer Saul Pasternack is similarly unassuming. The CPA, who also serves as chair of the financial planning committee, became a member in the early ‘70s when his wife Joanne was president. The two are still active in the organization, which provides financial and material assistance to needy Jewish children throughout the Capitol Region.
Founded in the early ‘50s as a Jewish orphanage in Hartford, the JCSO has evolved into an organization that, simply, “helps poor Jewish children in whatever way they need,” says Marx, from food and clothing, to daycare, camperships, b’nei-mitzvah tutoring, and college scholarships. While funding is generally allocated to Jewish youth up to age 24, the organization has also granted scholarships to eligible applicants pursuing graduate degrees in Jewish education or rabbinical school.
Funds are raised through the dues of some 300 to 400 members, as well as private donations and bequests used to create a small endowment fund. An all-volunteer organization, JCSO has no overhead of any kind and does not even maintain a website. Its only address is a post-office box at the Bishops Corner USPS branch.
This is a word-of-mouth organization. Members, donations, and grant applicants are attracted primarily through networking and referrals within the Jewish community. Marx became involved because her sister, Rita Ackerman Felsenfeld z”l, served as president in the ‘90s. Needy children are identified and referred by rabbis, Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford, the JCC, school guidance counselors, and even JCSO members.
Grant applications are submitted anonymously; the chair of the projects committee and the treasurer are the only JCSO officers allowed to see applicants’ names. The board usually meets four times a year to consider the projects committee’s funding recommendations.
“Our allocations vary from year to year,” says Pasternack. “Our intent is to give away all of our money, through grants, to the extent of our income. Some years we don’t give it all away, and sometimes we go a little over.”
In addition to monetary assistance, JCSO also provides Chanukah gifts and back-to-school packages for needy children every year.
Despite its long history and considerable impact, the organization is not well known in the community, Marx says, no doubt because it lacks a budget for any kind of publicity, keeping true to its bylaws and purely charitable goals. And in an area where many Jews have thrived financially, it can be eye-opening to learn that others live in poverty. But make no mistake: “There are some very, very needy Jewish families in our community,” says Pasternack.
For more information about the Jewish Children’s Service Organization: JCSO, P.O. Box 370386, Bishops Corner Branch, West Hartford, CT 06137

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