Published on September 20th, 2017 | by LedgerOnline0
The Jewish Children’s Service Organization celebrates 100 years
The all-volunteer agency continues to help children and families in need
By Stacey Dresner
WEST HARTFORD – Every year before Chanukah, members of the Jewish Children’s Service Organization (JCSO) purchase gifts – toys, books, children’s clothing – for Jewish families in need.
On one evening they gather at a member’s home for a big gift-wrapping session. Gift items, culled from “wish lists” obtained from clients of Hartford’s Jewish Family Service, are stacked high on the floor and tabletops, and the room is filled with the sound of JCSO volunteers chatting and wrapping gifts for Jewish families with children who otherwise would not receive such Chanukah treats.
While their Chanukah gift-wrapping event has become somewhat of a hallmark of the organization, the JCSO does way more than give holiday gifts.
The nonprofit organization also provides “individual financial support for basic needs such as food and clothing, college scholarship assistance, awards to Jewish educational and recreational facilities, as well as financial aid to children in need,” according to its website.
This aid includes block grants to several local Jewish schools and camps for needy students and campers and school backpacks.
All of the recipients of JCSO’s donations remain anonymous.
On Sunday, Oct. 22, JCSO will celebrate its centennial – 100 years of helping Jewish families in crisis. The community is invited to help celebrate the work of JCSO at a reception to be held at the Mandell JCC at 2 p.m. Guest speakers will include Mandell JCC Executive Director David Jacobs; Joan Margolis of Jewish Family Service; and Eric Maurer, director of JTConnect, greater Hartford’s Jewish community after-school program for teens.
JCSO exhibits celebrating the 100th anniversary are currently on display at the JCC and at West Hartford’s Emanuel Synagogue.
The JCSO mission states that, “Over the years, families in need have changed, but the requests for help for their children’s well-being continues. Unfortunately, there are still Jewish families who require financial help to provide for their children.”
“Maybe not so much now, but a while back people didn’t understand why Jewish people needed help,” says JCSO Co-President Joanne Pasternack. “I guess they thought everyone was able to care for themselves. But we have some sad situations and a lot of single parents.”
JCSO was founded in 1917 as the Hebrew Ladies Orphan Asylum, an orphanage for Jewish children on Wooster Street in Hartford. In 1919, it became known as the Hebrew Home for Children, and moved to Fairfield Avenue. By 1928, the Home had relocated to Blue Hills Avenue. In 1950, it had closed and re-emerged as the Jewish Children’s Service Organization.
“My husband’s cousin got me involved and within about two or three years I was president,” says Pasternack, who became involved in the organization close to 50 years ago. She became so involved “because of what the organization does helping children.”
Today, says Pasternack, “we get mostly requests for basic needs. We give money to families in the form of grocery gift cards and money for clothing.”
JCSO accepts applications on behalf of Jewish children, including those referred by rabbis, guidance counselors, social workers, friends, schools and JCSO members. The organization also gives block awards to the Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford, Solomon Schechter Day School, Hebrew High School of New England, Camp Shalom, Camp Gan Israel, and JT Connect, for use as scholarships.
Pasternack says that at one time, prior to when she joined, JCSO had 1,000 members. Today, membership numbers around 500. JCSO relies on its dedicated volunteers – there are no paid employees.
“We don’t do any fundraising; it is all just contributions,” Pasternack says.
Annual dues are $25 (up from the $18 it had been for many years) and “contributing members” pay $36. Lifetime members pay one-time dues of $250, although many of those members continue to make additional donations to the organization.
Recently, she notes, a sizable bequest added additional funds to help with JCSO’s mission.
JCSO members get together about three or four times a years to work on specific projects, such as the Chanukah gift event or the backpack drive.
“What we would love to do is get 100 new members this year in honor of our 100th anniversary. We are about 20 percent toward that goal right now,” she says.
Even at the centennial celebration, JCSO will be doing what it always does – giving back to the six local schools and camps that receive annual donations.
“We give college scholarships and this year we didn’t get one request,” Pasternack says. “We have invited the agencies back and we are going to present them with some additional money,” Pasternack said.
In June, Pasternack and longtime member Faith Helene were installed as co-presidents.
“I joined JCSO in the early ‘80s,” Helene said. “I was blessed to have three children who had everything they wanted and needed. I heard about JCSO, where there were children who needed clothes, food, daycare, money for college, school supplies. I thought, ‘this is how I can give back for all of my blessings.’”
For more info: JCSO, P.O. Box 370386, Bishop’s Corner Branch, West Hartford 06137.