JFS Perspectives

Thursday, June 22, 2017

2017 Max Frankel Volunteer of the Year Recipient: Tamara Weil

2017 Max Frankel Volunteer of the Year Recipient: Tamara Weil

Tamara Weil, a dedicated JFS Friendly Visitor and, more recently, a member of AmeriCorps who works with refugees through Jewish Family Service, was honored as the Jewish Family Service Max Frankel Volunteer of the Year at the Celebrate JFS event on June 26.

Modest and seemingly a bit overwhelmed by this significant tribute, Tamara willingly shared her journey as a JFS volunteer, urging others to join her in this very meaningful endeavor. Referring to her award, Tamara says, “It was a wonderful honor,” adding her sincere hope that other people in her age group will be inspired because of it to say, “Yes, I can do it, too.”

For several years, Tamara’s service as a JFS Friendly Visitor volunteer was characterized by weekly visits to Kavod, where each week she visited a resident named Bess, then in her 90s. The two became very close as they discussed a multitude of topics and shared their family news. Tamara helped Bess read and sort her mail, sent emails dictated by Bess to her family, helped her with calendaring, planning meals, going over important papers, and taking care of whatever else was needed. Tamara’s visits with Bess (now almost 102) continue to this day.

In December 2014, Tamara sought additional volunteer involvement, and became a member of AmeriCorps, following which she began working in the Refugee Mental Health program at JFS, serving refugees from many different countries, including Iraq, Somalia, Burma, Ethiopia, and Bhutan. Many of these newcomers have suffered trauma, and are also coping with mental health issues. Tamara helps clients navigate the complex healthcare and social services systems and obtain the care and services they need. She drives them to appointments, and acts as their advocate both during and after the sessions. She also introduces them and their families to enjoyable and enriching local venues that provide family fun and offer free visiting days.

Additionally, Tamara helped an Iraqi women’s group obtain a grant from Rose Community Foundation for an eight-week program consisting of social events, activities, cooking, walks, and wellness.

Tamara’s preparation for her role with refugees was intensive, including 40 hours of patient navigator training, general training in how to work with refugees, accompanying JFS therapists on home visits, learning complex HIPAA regulations, and navigating the ins and outs of social services. She’s become a whiz at using Google Translate, which has been a huge help. She has also learned a tremendous amount on the job, explains Tamara, who relates that she is still learning. She is in her third term with AmeriCorps; her commitment is for four terms, and will end in September 2018.

I asked Tamara why she gives so much of herself to others. She related that both her and her husband, Ken’s families stressed the weaving of volunteerism into every phase of life. She was also seeking a worthwhile challenge after her twin boys left for college. Her love of and admiration for Jewish Family Service and its programs were the clincher. “I get so much more than I give to it,” she adds. “JFS could not be a more wonderful environment, and volunteers are really, really valued.”

This appreciation is certainly borne out by the beautiful tribute to Tamara from Rotem Brayer, JFS Refugee Mental Health Program therapist and Tamara’s supervisor: “The whole team feels very lucky to have Tamara with us. She has the ability to really connect with and help our clients, which is sometimes challenging, especially since many of them don’t speak any English.”

Congratulations and gratitude to Tamara Weil, a truly dedicated volunteer at Jewish Family Service. May she—and all of the other 1,100 JFS volunteers—go from strength to strength.

Audrey Friedman Marcus

Audrey Friedman Marcus
Volunteer Writer

Audrey Friedman Marcus is a volunteer writer for JFS. She was cofounder and executive vice president of A.R.E. Publishing, Inc., for 30 years before retiring in 2001. She also founded the annual Fred Marcus Memorial Holocaust Lecture and co-authored the book Survival in Shanghai: The Journals of Fred Marcus, 1939 to 1949 (Pacific View Press).


Header photo: Tamara Weil working with a Refugee Mental Health client


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