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JFS Perspectives

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

JFS Family Safety Net Hosts 3rd Annual Gear Up for Winter Resource Fair

Friday, November 20, 2015


63 households came to Jewish Family Service (JFS) for the third annual “Gear up for Winter” resource fair on November 13. There were many expressions of gratitude from participants for all the services they could utilize at one time. Some people came specifically for one service or another (like a flu shot), but then accessed other resources as well. The entire Family Safety Net staff worked to help people navigate through all of the services and to keep things running smoothly. Below is a break-down of how many people used each service and some photos of our partners in action:

27 people signed up for the Jewish Family Service Weinberg Food Pantry and received food that day. Cooking Matters did a cooking demonstration and provided samples as people shopped for food in the pantry.

Walgreens flu shots

33 uninsured and under-insured people received free flu shots from our neighborhood Walgreens’ staff. 

Hunger Free Colorado truck 

9 people successfully signed up for SNAP benefits (food stamps) through the Hunger Free Colorado “SNAP into Health Program" and many other households received information about other food assistance programs.

Kimco interview 

15 people signed up for employment services. Of those, seven met with our employment case manager, Heather Seiden for help with their resumes and job searches. Work Options for Women met with two individuals and Kimco met with 12 people and made preliminary job offers to eight people!

Colorado Pet Pantry 

25 families received dog or cat food from the Colorado Pet Pantry.


6 people met with InnovAge to learn about their senior services and several signed up for their program.


21 people attended the information session on the Internet Essentials program from Comcast. Congratulations to Maria Caldera and her daughter, Yanilette; Maria Mottu and her daughter, Flor; and Sean Brown (pictured above) who won computers from Comcast!

Thank you to all of the participating partners for providing the services and making this a successful resource fair!

-Alaina Green, JFS Marketing Department

Mental Health Matters: Don't Be SAD!

Friday, November 13, 2015
By Arleen Gershen, LCSW, JFS Mental Health Specialists Therapist


Colorado is known for its rapidly changing weather. In fact, a well-known joke you hear about the weather here is, “Wait five minutes and it will change.”

You may ask, “What does the weather have to do with mental health?”

For an estimated 10 million Americans, winter can have a major impact on their moods if they suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Another 10 to 20 percent of Americans may have a milder form. Symptoms may be severe enough to affect an individual’s quality of life and 6 percent may require hospitalization due to suicidal thoughts.

SAD is thought to be related to a lack of sunlight, especially for people who live far from the equator, where winter daylight hours are very short. SAD typically begins around age 20. It is more common in women and people who have a close relative with the disorder.

Its cause is unknown but numerous theories have been proposed. Officially, SAD is considered a subtype of major depression that is related to changes in season. The symptoms typically begin and end close to the same time every year. Most symptoms begin in the fall and continue through the winter.

Not everyone with the disorder has the same symptoms, but common symptoms of SAD, aka “winter depression” or “seasonal depression,” include the following:
  • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • Nausea
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Tendency to oversleep and still feel tired
  • A change in appetite, especially cravings for carbohydrates or sweets
  • A decrease in energy
  • Difficulty concentrating or completing of tasks
  • Irritability
  • Social withdrawal
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased sex drive
  • A heavy feeling in the arms or legs
Diagnosing SAD may be difficult because symptoms are very similar to other forms of depression. Therefore, a therapist might ask the following questions during a clinical assessment:
  • Have you been depressed during the same season and improved by the end of the season two years in a row?
  • Are your symptoms consistent with SAD symptoms (as mentioned above)?
  • Do you have any close relatives who have been diagnosed with SAD?
It is also important to be aware that the disorder can be misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, or a viral infection, such as mononucleosis.

Because SAD is generally believed to be caused by lack of sunlight, various light therapies are frequently used that typically require 30–60 minutes each day throughout the fall and winter. Stopping light therapy too soon can result in a return of symptoms.

If light therapy is not successful within a few days, medication and/or behavioral therapies and/or a combination of treatments may be implemented.

In the interim, it is important for people with SAD to monitor their moods and energy levels, plan physical activities, try to approach the winter with a positive attitude, take advantage of any sunlight available, plan winter activities that are enjoyable, and most of all, If symptoms develop, seek help sooner rather than later. Contact the JFS Mental Health Specialists at 303.597.7777 for help.

Arleen GershenArleen Gershen, LCSW, has more than 34 years of clinical experience in the mental health field. Since joining Jewish Family Service in 2005, Arleen has been a psychotherapist for adolescents, adults, couples, and families, providing both short-term and longer-term treatment. She has also cofacilitated numerous bereavement groups. Her areas of specialty include couples therapy, anxiety, depression, grief work, and pregnancy loss.

Join us December 10 for Real Hope!

Friday, November 06, 2015

Real Hope 2015 

Real Hope is a little over a month away! Before all the holiday busyness sets in, take a minute to purchase your tickets now for this fabulous fundraiser!

When you join us for this gala event at 6:00 p.m. on December 10 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, you will walk into an amazing party complete with delicious lavish hors d'oeuvres from cuisines around the world, cocktails, a red carpet photo opportunity, surprise entertainment, and a chance to socialize with hundreds of your closest friends and colleagues. 

At 7:30 p.m., you can grab some coffee and dessert while enjoying a short program to learn more about the life-transforming work of Jewish Family Service. We will end the evening by presenting awards to our guests of honor who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership, philanthropy, and dedication to JFS and our community for many years: Adam J. Agron, Kal Zeff Business Leader of the Year, and Andrea Stillman, Jack Shapiro Community Service Award recipient. Learn more about these amazing honorees.

Not only will you enjoy a fun evening and pay tribute to two deserving individuals, but you will feel good knowing you are supporting an organization that helps more than 25,000 people in the Denver metro area each year!

Tell your friends and buy your tickets today! We look forward to seeing you on December 10th.

-Alaina Green, JFS Marketing Department

Colorado Senior Connections Edgewater Hosts Annual Day of Service

Monday, October 12, 2015


On Saturday, October 3, Colorado Senior Connections Edgewater hosted its Third Annual Fall Day of Service clean-up event for much deserving seniors in Edgewater. This amazing event gathers volunteers from Edgewater and surrounding neighborhoods to assist seniors living in their homes with much-needed help with outdoor chores they can no longer do on their own.

We are so grateful to the 54 volunteers from Edgewater, Lakewood, Highlands, Jewish Family Service, and Jefferson Unitarian Church of Golden, ranging in age from five to 75, who rolled up their sleeves to assist 13 seniors in Edgewater with outdoor tasks!

The continued support from the City of Edgewater proves that amazing things can happen for folks of a small community and this holds true with the Day of Service!

Stay tuned for details on our next Day of Service in May 2016.

-By Felica Goett, MAEd, Colorado Senior Connections Edgewater Activities and Volunteer Coordinator 

Mental Health Matters: The Power of Sadness

Friday, September 18, 2015

Photo credit: pixar.wikia.com

This summer’s animated film Inside Out was an entertaining and inventive look into the inner workings of an 11-year-old child’s brain. It also provided a potent and moving lesson on the importance of sadness.

Sadness, one of our so-called negative emotions, can be difficult for us to tolerate. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. It’s also a normal reaction to difficult life experiences and is a part of being human. Yet we are often encouraged to distance ourselves from sadness in order to feel better, as if there is something inherently wrong with feeling sad.

Studies have shown that, contrary to being a “useless” emotion, sadness is beneficial to us in ways that actually enhance our well-being. Joseph Paul Forgas, Ph.D., has discovered that when we are sad, we can remember details more accurately, have better judgment, and have more motivation than when we are happy. This seems to be due in part to sadness functioning as a signal that something is not right, making us more attentive to detail, more alert to social cues, and/or more motivated to make changes.

Inside Out explored a more immediate benefit of sadness. In the movie, the character, Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), does all the heavy lifting in terms of the little girl’s functioning: tamping down Anger, Fear, and Disgust, and attempting to put Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith) in a corner of the brain where she can’t touch anything. This works well for the child until she has life changes that naturally make her feel bad; then the more Joy works to keep Sadness at bay, the worse the child functions. It’s only when Sadness is allowed to come to the surface and be felt by the child that she actually begins to feel better.

The point is, when we experience difficulties, such as loss, we’re supposed to feel sad. Trying to distance ourselves from sadness may force the feeling underground and stop the healing process (and possibly lead to depression).

Embracing sadness, on the other hand, helps us identify what is wrong and promotes thinking of ways to cope with and heal from difficult experiences. It allows us to know ourselves better and increases our empathy for others. Talking about the feeling connects us, elicits support, and brings more meaning to our relationships. We do not have to do anything to begin this process because when we experience difficulties, sadness prompts us to slow down and feel, which is exactly what we need to do to heal.

So the next time sadness occurs, think about the impact of this powerful emotion on our lives, our relationships, and the way we function in the world. And remember, without sadness, we could not appreciate happiness.

Worry that your sadness has turned into depression? Contact the JFS Mental Health Specialists at 303.597.7777 for further information.

Betty TulliusBetty Tullius is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a master’s in clinical psychology. She has more than 15 years of clinical experience and has been with Jewish Family Service for 10 years. She works with adults, adolescents, families, and couples dealing with life changes, stress, depression, and anxiety.

SHALOM Denver Celebrates 60th Anniversary

Friday, September 04, 2015


SHALOM Denver, a division of Jewish Family Service (JFS) that employs and trains adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and people transitioning from welfare to work, celebrated its 60th anniversary last week with a picnic at City Park. More than 100 clients spent the morning playing games, dancing, and visiting with friends. Then, business customers and community supporters joined the party to enjoy lunch and a short program.

Sara LeeperSara Leeper, director of disability and employment services, kicked off the program with a few fun highlights from 1955, the year SHALOM was established. She cited fashion icons, popular TV shows and songs, inventions, toys, and more from that year. Sara gave a little bit of history of how SHALOM started, too:

“It was just 10 years after the end of WWII and the Holocaust. Jews had lost their homes and families and had nowhere to live. In those first 10 years, many Jews moved all over the world to find a new home and new life. Some made it all the way to Denver with the help of JFS. Some were able to go right to work; others needed assistance with training and employment. Jewish Family Service helped by creating the Utility Workshop, which was later named SHALOM Denver.”

LaurinLaurin, a SHALOM client with Down’s syndrome, spoke honestly about her disability and experiences with SHALOM Denver. She said, “Having Down’s can be scary because of the many medical problems and many medications I have to take daily. However, having Down’s means you are loving and accepting of others."

She continued, "SHALOM is my favorite place in the whole world. They are like family to me and I don’t want to leave them for anything. SHALOM is an employment training program for people with disabilities like me. We learn new job skills and good work habits. We take classes and tours of job sites. Right now I am learning how to operate a big, fancy printer.”

Several staff members presented SHALOM Hero Awards to the following business and community partners for their longstanding support of SHALOM Denver: Precious Metals Processing, Home Depot, the Erteszek Foundation, Piton Foundation, and Rocky Mountain Human Services. Yana Vishnitsky, JFS president & CEO also accepted an award on behalf of the late Joyce Zeff, who passed away in August.

Steph and Jorge

As staff presented the awards, they shared some impressive statistics about how much work SHALOM clients have done for some of the businesses. For example, since 2005, SHALOM has folded 4,189,014 return envelopes for Precious Metals Processing, which provided 101,360 hours of work and $118,768 of direct wages for its clients.

Thank you to everyone who attended the celebration, and more importantly, who has supported SHALOM Denver in one way or another over the past 60 years!

-Alaina Green, JFS Marketing Department

SHALOM Denver PALS Program Becomes ACE: Arts and Community Explorations

Friday, August 21, 2015

The PALS program, an interactive day program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities at SHALOM Denver, recently got a new name and program manager. Meet Emily vonSwearingen, the new program manager of ACE: Arts and Community Explorations. The name and face behind the program aren’t the only changes, though. Everything about it is getting upgraded to better accommodate the 33 clients who currently attend the program.

“Many people think of ‘arts’ as only visual arts,” Emily explains. “But it includes music, food, literature, culture, and more. We are taking a comprehensive approach to explore these different areas.” Currently, the ACE program offers simple nutrition classes, exercise classes, music awareness and therapy, visual art projects, and a growing library. And thanks to donations from ArtReach, some clients go on weekly outings to local cultural institutions.

A remodeling project is underway to make the program space 40% bigger and will include a kitchenette, sinks, and an accessible bathroom. Since the participants range from 20 to 80 years old and have varying degrees of disabilities, the new space will include zones for clients to work in small groups on different types of activities.

Emily has an extensive background in disability advocacy, education, and therapy. She held director-level positions at many nonprofit arts organizations, and still works as an independent artist and commissioned lead artist for specialized projects. For nearly 15 years, she has been a lead artist for VSA Colorado/Access Gallery in the Santa Fe Drive Art District. She has formalized a partnership with Access Gallery, starting in September, for the ACE clients to work on mixed-media art projects in the gallery twice a month and have their work exhibited. In addition, Emily plans to create progressively more challenging art projects, such as weaving and recycled 3-D art, geared for different ability levels.

Emily’s first focus is the clients—advocating for them and ensuring the other ACE staff members have the tools they need to serve the clients. “This job is so much more than doing arts and crafts; clients have significant needs that staff attend to daily. I am so appreciative of Collette, Keith, and Vanessa, who have worked in this program for 13 years, seven years, and four years respectively,” says Emily. “We all work together as a team and everyone has something to contribute. I am grateful they are open to all the changes we are starting to make to the program.”

Emily and her staff are looking to form partnerships with other nonprofits, such as animal shelters, where the clients can be participants in the community, not just viewers. Emily says, “People with disabilities can participate much more than people think. I want to find long-term volunteer opportunities where we can visit regularly and contribute to meaningful and engaging work.”

Emily’s goal is for the clients to learn something new every day. Through projects, they are developing skills, empowerment, and expression. They are working with different mediums, and exploring new textures, patterns, and dimensions. “It is not about the end product, but about the process,” she explains. Emily recently introduced a hula hoop art project, which was successful in unexpected ways. One client used the project to diffuse himself when he was upset, another learned how to tie knots for the first time, and a client who had been food-focused for years turned the focus to working diligently on the hoops.

In her career, Emily has worked with thousands of people who are underserved, at-risk, and have a wide variety of abilities and disabilities. She has made it her mission to defeat stereotypes about disabilities and show that everyone has potential. “It has been very rewarding to see our clients accomplish something new and see the positive changes in people!” Emily says with a smile.

To learn more about ACE, please contact Emily vonSwearingen at 303.623.0251 x214 or evonswearingen@jewishfamilyservice.org.

-Alaina Green, JFS Marketing Department

Seniors Matter: The Powerful Impact of Pets

Friday, July 31, 2015
By Buffy Sophinos, JD, MSW, Jay and Rose Phillips Senior Solutions Center care manager

senior and dogMany people consider their pets to be an integral part of their family. For seniors and those living alone, pets can have a profound impact on quality of life. By owning a pet, seniors can:
  • Improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Some studies have shown that the act of petting immediately reduces blood pressure.
  • Find a sense of purpose.
  • Reduce loneliness and depression.
  • Have someone to talk to.
  • Increase physical activity—pets require food, water, exercise, and medical care.
  • Have motivation for self-care out of a sense of responsibility for the pet.
I recently visited a client who became lonely and isolated after her husband passed away. A few weeks ago, a family member asked if she would adopt his cat. She never expected to develop much of a relationship with her new furry roommate, but now she loves having someone to cuddle and feed. She likes to take the cat outside on a leash where they can both enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. She talks to the cat to break up the quiet and says it has helped her cope with the loss of her husband.

With all the potential benefits of having a pet, losing a pet can be heartbreaking. Pets are sometimes lost due to death or illness, but people who are sick or aging may lose pets for other reasons. Seniors may choose to give up a pet that they can no longer physically or financially care for. When people move into apartments, assisted living, or nursing care, beloved pets may not be allowed to join them.

For many seniors, loss has become a consistent experience. As they age, they lose friends, family members, and neighbors. They face the possibility of losing physical abilities or mental faculties. Having left the workforce and/or having seen their children move out and start families of their own, seniors may lose a sense of identity or purpose. Pets help fill some of the gaps that are left by these losses. The added loss of a pet can lead to loneliness and depression—the very issues that pets help address.

As family, friends, and caregivers, we can provide support to seniors who face the loss of a pet. If possible, we can help prevent loss by providing assistance like changing the litter box, walking the dog, taking the pet to the vet, or even assisting financially. If a senior does lose a pet, the best thing you can do is provide a safe place where he or she can grieve and talk about this loss, and any other loss, without fear of judgment.

Buffy SophinosBuffy Sophinos, JD, MSW received her master’s degree in social work in 2010 and Juris Doctor in 2011 from the University of Denver, before joining Jewish Family Service in 2012. Her experience is focused primarily on assisting clients and families as they make decisions about the future. She has also worked at two assisted living communities, an elder law firm, and the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado.

Record Attendance at 2015 Celebrate JFS

Friday, June 26, 2015

Nearly 300 people—our biggest crowd for this event—attended Celebrate JFS, Jewish Family Service's annual meeting and celebration of volunteers, board, supporters, and staff held this past Monday evening. 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.

Para-chaplain Elliott Magalnick and Rabbi Gruenwald.

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. Para-chaplain Elliott Magalnick beautifully sang the Shehecheyanu blessing, a common Jewish prayer said to celebrate special occasions and to be thankful for new and unusual experiences.

Nancy Benyamin and Maury Kroopnick with the award.

Nancy Benyamin, director of volunteer services, thanked all of our volunteers, gave some highlights of volunteer achievements from the past year, and introduced the Max
Frankel Volunteer of the Year Award recipient, Maury Kroopnick. Maury is a volunteer with the Jay and Rose Phillips Senior Solutions Center at JFS who has already dedicated more than 1,000 hours since the end of 2013 and spends 15–20 hours per week at JFS. He graciously accepted the award and said he feels fortunate to give back to a great organization during his retirement.

Yana Vishnitsky presents the gavel to Eric Pollock.

President & CEO Yana Vishnitsky gave an update from the past year’s programs and events, and educated guests about the latest agency news. She presented a gavel to Eric Pollock to thank him for his two-year term as board chair. Eric eloquently thanked everyone for the last two years' successes and shared that his grandmother was the JFS board chair more than 60 years ago. Then he used the new gavel to conduct the official board business by thanking outgoing members Marc Cohen, Alan Mayer, Rob Naiman, and Michele Right. Then he introduced the new board chair, Jane E. Rosenbaum, who briefly spoke and, as her first official act as board chair, installed new board members David Feiner, Leanna Harris, Carol Karshmer, and Mindy Levy Peckar.

Thank you to David Lissy of Lissy Brenner Photography 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

Community Members Lend a Hand at Colorado Senior Connections Edgewater Day of Service

Friday, June 05, 2015


On Saturday, May 16, community members from Edgewater, Colorado and those from the surrounding areas came in force to meet up, team up, and do great things for seniors in Edgewater! The Colorado Senior Connections Edgewater annual Day of Service began two years ago in the fall to help local seniors tidy up their properties, as it is getting harder to do it themselves.

This year, we added a Spring Day of Service so we could provide a much-needed yard clean up after the winter months. Our first spring event was a huge success; more than 50 volunteers from in and around Edgewater served 13 homes!

The volunteers included neighbors in Edgewater, Jefferson Unitarian Church members, Jefferson High School students, Edgewater City Council members, City of Edgewater Community Services staff, Jewish Family Service staff, and others!

Our strong tradition of helping seniors in the Edgewater area was proven once again. Without the support of wonderful volunteers and the trust the residents give us, we couldn’t make it happen!

-By Felica Goett, MAEd, Colorado Senior Connections Edgewater Activities and Volunteer Coordinator

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