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JFS Perspectives

News, stories, events, and ideas from Jewish Family Service of Colorado.

Yana Vishnitsky Recognized with Lifetime Achievement Award

Friday, September 02, 2016


Last week, JFS President & CEO Yana Vishnitsky won the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at the Denver Business Journal’s Outstanding Women in Business luncheon. This award is bestowed upon an individual for overall accomplishments for the entirety of a business career. Judges take into account not just work achievements, but the imprint left on the community at large.

Yana with guests 

Outstanding Women in Business programIt was exciting to join three tables of JFS board members, supporters, staff members, and friends who were there to cheer her on as she received her award! Several of the speakers and other award recipients mentioned Yana in their speeches and lauded her accomplishments. And Yana's photo was featured on the cover of the luncheon program and on all the table tents.

Belen De Leon, 9News meteorologist and event emcee, introduced Yana and shared a bit of her incredible story: “When Yana Vishnitsky came to Denver from Soviet Russia in 1978, she didn’t know how to drive a car, her engineering and law degrees weren’t valued, and she had no idea how to navigate an American grocery store.” Before welcoming her to the stage, she described Yana’s 38-year journey with Jewish Family Service, talked a bit about the agency’s work, and announced that Yana is retiring at the end of this year.

Yana received a standing ovation from the packed hotel ballroom as she made her way to the stage to receive her award.


Yana began her acceptance speech by saying, “I am honored to be recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the end of my career with Jewish Family Service, the career that I have cherished and loved for 38 years. I am so blessed to have landed at Jewish Family Service—it has changed my life and the life of many people. It became my passion, my life, my accomplishment, and I feel privileged to come to work every day with pleasure.” She also recognized the other Outstanding Women in Business nominees’ accomplishments, strength, perseverance, and resilience.

Yana accepting award

Read the full profile of Yana in the Denver Business Journal (subscriber-only content).

Yana! A Farewell Celebration 

Join us to celebrate Yana before she retires—and support JFS in the process! Get tickets or a sponsorship to our gala fundraiser, “Yana! A Farewell Celebration” on December 10.

-Alaina Green, JFS Marketing Department


You Helped 235 Kids Go Back to School with New Supplies

Friday, August 19, 2016


Once again, we asked and you delivered! Thank you to all of our amazing community members for donating money, backpacks, and school supplies this summer. Because of your generosity, we distributed 235 backpacks filled with school supplies to low-income children in the Denver metro area this week, a 47% increase over last year!


This project was truly a community effort. We were able to purchase and fill nearly 200 backpacks with the donations and supplies we received. In addition to that, JCC Cares filled 35 more backpacks with supplies. We loved seeing donations come from people of all ages. Many families used the opportunity to teach their young children about doing mitzvot and starting down a philanthropic path with a small act that goes a long way.


Thank you to volunteers Andrea Stillman and Marlene Richter for purchasing the backpacks and supplies at great prices on our behalf, and to everyone who sorted and packed the supplies, including teens from our Summer Youth Program and Jill Miller’s group.


We gave 207 of the filled backpacks to children in our Lunchbox Express program and 28 to Family Safety Net clients at our office.


And a big thank-you again to all of our dedicated Lunchbox Express volunteers who helped us distribute more than 20,000 lunches this summer at 15 sites! Our third summer with the program was a great success and we could not have done it without every one of them.

-Alaina Green, JFS Marketing Department

Keeping it FRESH!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016
Going from Farm to Table with Ekar Farm and the Weinberg Food Pantry

Jewish Family Service values its long-standing partnership with Ekar Farm. This urban farm, located in east Denver, adjacent to Denver Academy of Torah, is dedicated to educating the community about sustainable agriculture products and food justice. They are committed to growing healthy organic produce, which they donate to local food pantries, including the Weinberg Food Pantry at JFS.

In fact, JFS is the biggest recipient of Ekar’s annual harvest. In 2015, the Weinberg Food Pantry received more than 6,800 pounds of farm-fresh produce, which we were able to make available to our food pantry clients. “Providing fresh, nutritious, organic produce to our pantry clients is something that sets JFS apart from other pantries that are often only able to provide nonperishable food,” says Shelly Hines, director of Family Safety Net Services. “We strive to provide fresh food options whenever we can and our partnership with Ekar takes that freshness to a higher level. We couldn’t do it without them.”

Ekar Farm hosted several members of the JFS staff to visit the farm on July 26 to learn more about the farm’s mission and operations, as well as to chip in with harvesting kale, cucumbers, and squash. The group also planted seeds for the season’s last planting of turnips, radishes, carrots, and beets.

JFS staff at Ekar Farm
JFS staff members pose for a group photo before going to work at Ekar Farm.

We decided it might be fun to follow some of our harvest from the farm to the Weinberg Food Pantry and finally to the home of a client that benefited from the harvest.

Follow the Cucumber!

JFS Family Safety Net Program Coordinator Myrna Maldonado hand-picked this special cucumber that we will follow from farm to table!

Pantry supply coordinator Chad Livermore made a farm run and came back with a bucket of fresh, organic cucumbers, including our special specimen.

Client Cameron Blazek came to the pantry with his two young daughters, Prairie, 2, and Happy, 7 months. Volunteer Sherry Levitt is proud to show off the fresh produce that’s available.

Cameron has selected, you guessed it, our very special cucumber. Happy is obviously very happy about it.

But not as happy as Prairie, who is looking forward to her favorite snack.

Back at home, Cameron sliced our cucumber into bite-size pieces. He is adamant about leaving the skin on for all the added nutrients.

Snack is served!

“Nothing beats a fresh cucumber at snack time,” says Prairie.

“I love fresh cucumbers from the farm!”

-John Kayser, JFS Marketing Department

Yana's Final Celebrate JFS as CEO

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Celebrate JFS crowdApproximately 200 people attended Celebrate JFS, Jewish Family Service's annual meeting and celebration of volunteers, board, supporters, and staff held June 27. Guests of all ages gathered at Palazzo Verdi near Fiddler’s Green, and sampled sumptuous hors d’oeuvres and drinks while mingling and enjoying the art in the adjacent Madden Museum.

After about an hour, the guests were seated for a short program. Rabbi Salomon Gruenwald, JFS board member and rabbi of Hebrew Educational Alliance, gave an inspirational D’var Torah (commentary) about the important work JFS does for the community. 

Nancy Benyamin, director of volunteer services, thanked all of our volunteers, gave some highlights of volunteer Allan Cohenachievements from the past year, and introduced the Max Frankel Volunteer of the Year Award recipient, Dr. Allan Cohen. Dr. Cohen, a retired psychologist, has volunteered with the Mental Health Services department for 12 years, providing pro bono counseling services to a variety of JFS clients. Recently through the JFS Colorado Senior Connections (CSC) program, Allan began hosting weekly office hours for residents of Edgewater Plaza who are 60 years or older. Allan graciously accepted the award and entertained guests with his humorous comments.

Yana VishnitskyPresident & CEO Yana Vishnitsky, who is retiring at the end of 2016, gave an update from the past fiscal year. She talked about program highlights, changes, and some significant losses the agency experienced. She thanked the exemplary staff, dedicated volunteers, and generous supporters, and received a well-deserved standing ovation. 

David Friedman, board member and outgoing Development Committee chair, introduced a new donor recognition and David Friedmanannual giving program called "Authors of Hope." Stay tuned for more details on how you can get involved in this program in the coming months. True to form, David had the crowd laughing and I hate to say it, but you just had to be there to understand his jokes!

Jane E. Rosenbaum installing new board membersJane E. Rosenbaum, board chair, closed the program by first telling everyone that she wouldn't be as funny as Allan or David and then did a beautiful job thanking Yana for her 38 years of service (16 as CEO). She installed new board members Jason Cooper, Mark Krivel, and Marty Rosenbaum (who was unable to attend) and recognized outgoing members Rocky Miller and Kerry Shelanski for their dedication. Rabbi Gruenwald then blessed the new board members and the work they will do for JFS.

Thank you to Avital Rothbart of Photography by Avital for taking wonderful event pictures! View more here…

Thank you everyone who attended this event! We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. If you were there, please leave your comments—we'd love your feedback!

-Alaina Green, JFS Marketing Department

My Lunchbox Express Volunteer Experience

Friday, July 01, 2016


As the Jewish Family Service associate director of marketing and communications, I had seen Lunchbox Express in action many times over the past few years since we took over the summer lunch program. I had taken photos of volunteers handing out food to kids at various locations and worked with media to get stories of the program.

This year, I decided to volunteer with my 11-year-old daughter, Hannah. We went on two different routes the past two Thursdays—one in southeast Denver/Aurora and one in southwest Denver. Much to Hannah’s chagrin, we didn’t get to ride on the Lunchbox Express bus as most volunteers do because minors can’t ride the bus (for liability and insurance reasons), so we followed the bus to each stop.

Hannah showing the food
"Mom, you're really making me pose with the food?!"

Even though I was quite familiar with the program, it felt good to personally hand out the lunches, drinks, books (one day), and fruit (one day), and get to interact with the kids. Everyone was so appreciative and kind, including the bus drivers we worked with. We didn’t always know who spoke English, but luckily language didn’t get in the way of understanding each other.

On the first day, I met a few people who used other JFS services or had heard good things about the agency and were pleased to know that Lunchbox Express was one of our programs. It always feels good to step out of my office and meet some of the people we serve and to see firsthand the difference our work makes!

The experience made me appreciate (even more) that my kids don’t have to use a service like this. The bus driver offered Hannah a lunch the first day (since she’s under 18 and that’s the only qualification), but she declined, mostly because she didn’t like what was in it. We both realized that she would probably be a less-picky eater if she didn’t have enough to eat.

Selfies are a must when you're with an 11-year-old!

It was meaningful volunteering with my daughter and sparked some interesting conversations, many of which she didn’t want me to share! She did say it helped her appreciate what she has and is thankful she always has enough food. She also said, “It felt good to help people in need and it was a fun experience.”

I’m glad that it tore her away from her phone and iPad for a few hours and exposed her to other sides of the city and different populations than she’s used to seeing. It was a fun and valuable experience that I highly recommend!

If you are interested in volunteering for Lunchbox Express this summer or in the future (with or without your child), please contact Nancy Benyamin, director of Volunteer Services, at 720.248.4642.

-Alaina Green, JFS Marketing Department

The Denver Jewish Community Stands Together with Pride

Friday, June 17, 2016


In light of the attack in last Sunday morning’s shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, Pride events are now more important than ever. We are proud co-sponsors of two Jewish community events this weekend and we invite you to join us:

Tonight, Friday, June 17 beginning at 5:30 p.m.

From 5:30 to 6:00 p.m., meet in the JCC Denver lobby (350 South Dahlia Street) for a community solidarity gathering, as a powerful, collective way for all of us to show our support for LGBTQ, Latino/a, and Muslim communities who feel vulnerable in the wake of this violence. At 6:00 we will transition into Pride Kabbalat Shabbat services, co-led by Dr. Caryn Aviv, Rabbi Evette Lutman, Rabbi Brian Field, and members of the LGBTQ Jewish community, followed by a community potluck. Please let us know what (if anything) you are bringing to share, and RSVP on Facebook.


Sunday, June 19, 8:30 a.m.

Meet in Cheesman Park and march down Colfax Avenue in the fun and vibrant parade under the banner "Jewish Community Pride!" We will be meeting at Red 7 on the west side of the park near 12th Avenue. Please be sure to bring your own sunscreen, hat, factory-sealed water bottle, and snacks. RSVP here. Continue on to Denver PrideFest in Civic Center Park to show your support and be sure to visit the Jewish community booth to visit with staff from several community organizations, including JFS.

Beyond this weekend, JFS is here to help! We are committed to providing vital senior services to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) community, based on our principles of inclusion, compassion, and social justice. Our staff is sensitive and responsive to the special needs of older adults in this community.

Our Mental Health Specialists therapists are also available to provide counseling on a sliding-fee scale. You can also visit coloradocrisisservices.org to find a walk-in center near you, call Colorado Crisis Services at 844.493.8255, or text TALK to 38255 for immediate help.

We hope to see you at this weekend’s Pride events! Please share with your friends to help have a large showing of solidarity and community support.

-Alaina Green, JFS Marketing Department

Welcome to New JFS Therapists

Friday, May 13, 2016
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, please help us welcome our two newest therapists: Rotem Brayer, MEd, LPC, Refugee Mental Health psychotherapist; and Deborah Goodman, LCSW, psychotherapist.

Rotem BrayerRotem Brayer, MEd, LPC, joined the JFS Refugee Mental Health department in December 2015. He grew up in Israel and moved to Massachusetts in 2007 to earn a master’s in education at Cambridge College. While in Boston, he worked at a community mental health center providing therapy for people with chronic mental illness, addiction, stress, or other issues.

He specialized in addictions, especially helping people in their 20s with behavioral addictions such as gaming and the Internet. While he didn’t specialize in working with refugees, he got referrals for clients from other countries and could easily relate to them since he didn’t grow up in the United States.

Rotem and his wife moved to Denver in 2015 for the mountains and quality of life. Before starting at JFS, he worked at Aurora Mental Health. In JFS’s Refugee Mental Health department, he sees adults from many war-torn countries, including Iraq, Congo, Iran, and Afghanistan. Rotem helps them with anxiety, depression, and adjustment issues.The clients he has seen so far have been in this country for anywhere from a month to eight years.

“So far I love everything about working at JFS,” says Rotem enthusiastically. “The work environment, my coworkers, and of course working with the clients have been wonderful.” He adds that he was attracted to this job because “I am interested in different cultures and relating to people’s experiences when they are coming from other countries.”

Deborah GoodmanDeborah (Debbie) Goodman, LCSW, joined the Jewish Family Service Mental Health Specialists team in February 2016. Originally from Denver, Debbie left in her 20s and lived in several states before landing back in Denver more than two years ago. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Colorado, followed by a master’s degree in applied early child development. She earned a second master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan.

Debbie spent the majority of her career working with children; she counseled pregnant and parenting teens at an adolescent healthcare clinic, served as a Jewish educator and preschool teacher, and worked with foster care children. About four years ago, she started working with adults at two different mental health centers and discovered she really liked it because they could make decisions about their lives.

Her area of expertise is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (referred to as “ACT”), a cognitive behavior therapy that helps people gain skills to manage their symptoms so those symptoms don’t stop them from leading a value-laden life. “I am so passionate about this type of therapy,” Debbie says. “It is so effective and I have seen it turn people’s lives around! We’ve spent years thinking people had to get rid of their anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses, but they don’t—they just need tools to manage and accept them.” She looks forward to employing this technique with both individual clients and starting a group at JFS in the near future.

So far, Debbie loves everyone she’s met at JFS and is very impressed with the longevity of the staff. “Everyone is so kind, sweet, and accepting,” she says. “I also really love working in a Jewish agency again—there is a comfort there.”

Debbie’s 29-year-old twin daughters have followed in her footsteps: Rebekkah works as a therapist in the Counseling Department of Regis University and Rachael is in a community psychology doctoral program at Michigan State University.

-Alaina Green, JFS Marketing Department

Caring Conversations with Older Adult Drivers

Friday, May 06, 2016

In honor of Older Americans Month, here are some helpful tips about how to have a caring conversation with an older adult when it may be time to limit or give up driving.

Photo from aarp.org

Safe mobility is essential to healthy aging. Driving has been recognized as a key factor in the well-being and independence of older adults. The idea of limiting or giving up driving can be a deeply personal and emotional issue for both the family and the driver. Communication about driving can trigger negative emotions, including sadness, powerlessness, frustration, anger, and decreased self-esteem. There is no easy way to approach the subject, but steps can be taken to preserve the driver’s freedom and mobility while ensuring safety on the road.

Prepare for the Conversation
  • Plan ahead: The first conversations about safety should occur long before driving becomes a problem. A frequent discussion allows for minor modifications and a gradual transition from driver to passenger.
  • Avoid stereotyping: Physical and cognitive functioning matters most in driving safely, not age. Avoid overgeneralizing, such as “older adults cannot drive.”
  • Observe driving ability: Gather facts and information on the driver’s skills and capabilities. Drive with him or her to learn what the specific safety risks are.
  • Who and where: Avoid holding a large family intervention and “ganging up” on the driver. Make privacy a priority; hold the conversation in a safe, comfortable, and private space.
Tips for a Successful Conversation
  • Be respectful: Acknowledge that this is difficult and avoid coming on too strong, as you may start the discussion off on the wrong foot.
  • Stick to the facts: Focus on actual driving capabilities based on information you have gathered, not on age.
  • Focus on safety: Clearly express your concerns about safety and the risks to the driver and others on the road. Ask how safe he or she feels on the road and assess comfort level.
  • Address independence concerns: Acknowledge the importance of maintaining connections to the people, places, and activities that are important.
Transportation Plan and Alternatives
  • Introduce transportation plan: Identify transportation needs and create a specific plan for how these needs will still be met.
  • Driving modifications: Minor modifications can address safety concerns while maintaining driver independence. These modifications include limiting night driving, driving on familiar and close streets, and avoiding the freeway, rush hour, and risky spots (ramps and left turns).
  • Friends and family: They are often a primary alternative for transportation. When providing transportation for your loved one, there are ways to frame the experience to be meaningful rather than just a “ride.” This can be done by asking the older adult to participate in family outings that already have planned transportation. Caring for your loved one demonstrates love and commitment, but it can become stressful and exhausting. It is important to understand that you are not alone and there are resources in the community to assist with some of the driving demands.
  • Community resources: There are various services designed to bridge the transportation gap in the aging community. These resources include public transit/fixed routes, paratransit, medical service providers, volunteer programs, and hired drivers. The service suitable for your loved one may vary in accessibility, driving needs, affordability, and eligibility.

For more information on transportation resources, please contact the Jay and Rose Phillips Senior Solutions Center at 303.597.5000.

-Sladjana Todorovic, Jay and Rose Phillips Senior Solutions Center

Sladjana TodorovicSladjana Todorovic is a student at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. Sladjana is a PROGRESS student in the Aging and Policy concentration and is set to graduate in June. She is completing her internship with the Jay and Rose Phillips Senior Solutions Center at Jewish Family Service.

JFS Executive Luncheon Featuring Al Pacino Raises Record Amount

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Acting legend Al Pacino entertained nearly 1,200 business and professional leaders attending Jewish Family Service’s (JFS) 12th annual JFS Executive Luncheon held on April 13 at the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center. Before Pacino took the stage, the audience was moved by a video about Family Safety Net clients whom JFS helped with rent and food assistance, a “Job Success Series for Women” class co-led by Dress for Success, and employment case management services.

Jane E. Rosenbaum Board chair Jane E. Rosenbaum, shared a bit more about the clients' story (they weren't at the event because they recently started new jobs) and announced a $100,000 matching opportunity for money raised in the room. Attendees generously donated more than $103,000 in the room to make the match.

In total, the event raised more than $842,000 to support the life-transforming programs of Jewish Family Service, making it the highest-grossing fundraiser in JFS history! 

Following a video montage of Al Pacino’s career, the actor received a standing ovation from the attendees in the packed ballroom as he took the stage. He then sat down for an interview with Ron Bostwick, an entertainment producer and radio show host.

During the 90-minute interview, Pacino captivated the audience with stories about his award-winning acting career and lifePacino and Bostwick experiences. He credited his eighth grade drama teacher for encouraging him to pursue this line of work. “She even got me to read the Bible every day…and I practiced reading it with passion to hone my craft,” he shared. He talked about his first movie role in Panic in Needle Park and how it led to one of his most famous roles in The Godfather series. While Pacino is primarily known for his work in films, he spoke about his love of Shakespeare and said he is currently learning King Lear, “which may take up to a year because I want to do it right.”

At the end of the interview, he took several questions from the audience and even signed a junior high school classmate’s yearbook. He concluded the luncheon with a monologue of an excerpt of one of his favorite Oscar Wilde poems. The fundraiser’s Chief-level sponsors were then invited to pose for photos with Pacino at a private reception.

Thank you to more than 115 companies, organizations, foundations, and individuals that supported the event through sponsorships.

Co-chairsThank you to event co-chairs Leanna Harris, Aaron Hyatt, Jim Miller (who was unable to attend), and Stanton Rosenbaum and the amazing, dedicated committee who helped us sell sponsorships and fill the room. A special thank-you to Aaron Hyatt, shareholder at Brownstein Farber Hyatt Schreck, LLP, for graciously serving as the emcee.


Lisa, Yana, DawnThank you to president & CEO Yana Vishnitsky and "twins" from the development department, Lisa Benoit and Dawn Richard, for their event oversight and planning!

And thank you to everyone who attended the luncheon! We’d love to hear your feedback—please post comments here!

Check out more event photos…

Check out social media posts from the event on Storify.

-Alaina Green, JFS Marketing Department

Celebrating Our Volunteers During National Volunteer Week

Friday, April 08, 2016

As National Volunteer Week approaches, April 10 to 16, we would like to thank and pay tribute to our more than 1,100 annual volunteers. As you can see from the infographic below, volunteers are at the heart of everything we do! We are so grateful to all the dedicated, passionate, and compassionate people who help in a variety of meaningful ways throughout the agency.

Learn more about our volunteer program and ways you can get involved!

JFS Volunteer Infographic

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