By Cindy Mindell
GREENWICH – This month, Jewish Family Services of Greenwich (JFS) becomes the first Jewish social services agency in the U.S. to widen its therapeutic reach via its pioneering Online Support Group Project (OSGP).
“Individuals can now gain sustenance and strength through support-group counseling while remaining in their homes or offices,” says JFS director Lisa-Loraine Smith, LCSW. “Although Greenwich Hospital and leading social service agencies have been recommending JFS support groups for many years, some people were frustrated because they couldn’t visit the JFS office for the suggested counseling. Some of our clients don’t drive, or are unable to leave the house due to advanced age or illness. Others may not be able to leave the house because they care for young children or a person who’s chronically ill, while some people have a hard time getting out due to depression, illness, or simple time constraints.”
The idea first came up after the Sandy Hook school massacre, when a participant in a JFS bereavement support group suggested creating a 24/7 counseling service for Newtown residents. Smith and JFS staff realized that, while the 24-hour model was too ambitious a start, a more limited online counseling resource was a viable and beneficial alternative to the traditional in-person support group.
Smith recruited Tal Shalom, a personal friend and early core team-member of Vidyo, Inc., a global internet teleconferencing company based in New Jersey. Vidyo took on the JFS as its flagship non-profit client, pro bono, and spent a year perfecting the confidential and secure online support-group model.
Over the next few weeks, four support groups will be piloted online, addressing bereavement, caregivers, new mothers, and chronic illness. Participants can join in from anywhere, via a computer, tablet, or Smartphone with Wi-Fi access and an optional web-cam. (Those wishing to remain anonymous can join the conversation via voice only.) The $20-per-session fee is the same as for JFS’s in-person support groups; a sliding scale is available.
Each group will include a maximum of eight participants and be professionally facilitated by licensed and experienced JFS social workers. As a pilot agency, JFS of Greenwich plans to perfect and promote OSGP locally, and then explore opportunities outside the community as well.
“Support groups help people feel less lonely, isolated, and judged,” says Smith. “It’s especially empowering for people who can’t get out of the house to connect and engage with others and see people’s faces, even online.”
The following is the line-up of JFS online support groups:
• Bereavement: Tuesdays, 7-8 p.m.
• Chronic Illness: 8 Wednesdays starting Feb. 5, 10-11 a.m.
• New Mothers: 8 Tuesdays starting Feb. 11, 10-11 a.m.
• Caregivers: 8 Fridays starting Feb. 14, 10-11 a.m.
For information call (203) 622-1881 or visit jfsgreenwich.org.