JFS Perspectives

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

From the CEO: JFS—Who we are and why we are

From the CEO: JFS—Who we are and why we are

The New Year is an opportunity to reflect, refresh, renew, and look forward.  We do this as individuals, families, communities, and organizations. During consequential times, this process of determining who we are, why we are, and what we stand for is more important than ever. I will not presume to suggest what each of us should do individually, but I can share the “who, why, and what” of this extraordinary organization, Jewish Family Service of Colorado (JFS).

JFS was founded more than 145 years ago by Frances Wisebart Jacobs and other visionary leaders with the mission of serving individuals and families in need. We remain actively committed to that mission today. Over the years, JFS has built one of the largest and most effective human service organizations in Colorado on four pillars:

  • A mission rooted in the Jewish values of Tikkun Olam (healing the world) and Tzedakah (giving to others selflessly).
  • A commitment to serve those in need regardless of race, ethnicity, faith, national origin, sexual orientation, or background.
  • An ecosystem of talented and dedicated staff, volunteers, donors, and strategic partners (peer organizations, foundations, local and state government, and businesses).
  • Effective business operations as measured in program quality and sustainability, staff and client experience, cost-effectiveness, continual innovation and learning, and impact and outcomes.    

Occasionally we encounter a question of how our Jewish values define our work on a day-to-day basis. JFS is the beneficiary of two legacies, which we plan to continue: 

  • Universal programs that serve all individuals in need, and
  • Specialized programs that are designed primarily for Jewish individuals in need  

Our commitment to serve all people in need—all races, ethnicities, faiths, national origins, abilities, and sexual orientations—is a profoundly important value at JFS and a defining characteristic of who we are.   

We are privileged, for example, to serve the growing number of Muslim refugees and Latino families who come to us for family safety net support, mental health services, and employment training and assistance. 

We are honored to serve individuals who speak 39 different languages. 

We are also proud of our legacy of serving Holocaust survivors and their children, delivering kosher meals to homebound seniors, and providing Jewish chaplaincy and para-chaplaincy services.    

Of our 34 programs, 24 are universally focused and 10 are focused on our Jewish clients. In terms of numbers served, we impact 24,000 individuals a year through our four program areas: mental health services, disability and employment services, senior solutions, and family safety net services.  Approximately 30% of those served are of the Jewish faith, and 70% represent other faiths and ethnicities.   

This is a duality of programming that we celebrate and that helps make JFS special.   

If there is one quality that encompasses all of JFS—our history and plans for the future; our mission and values; and our remarkable staff, board, and community of supporters—it would be our drive to serve others.  

My mother, of blessed memory, Blanche Nevel (she preferred “Bracha”) spoke often of the Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel and his view of meaning in life. In Man Is Not Alone, Heschel wrote: “Religion, the end of isolation, begins with a consciousness that something is asked of us…Every person is a microcosm [who] carries within him the soul an entire people.”  In an interview shortly before his death, as my mother recounted, Heschel continued with this theme when asked if he has a message for young people:“I would say let them remember there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Let them be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power, and that everyone can do our share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and all the frustrations and all disappointments. And above all, remember that the meaning of life is to build a life as if it were a work of art.”

This is Jewish Family Service of Colorado.

Shepard NevelShepard Nevel
President and CEO