York JCC, Jewish Family Services join forces

After decades of providing families with services — from social groups to a food pantry and transportation service — the work of Jewish Family Services will now be part of the York JCC under the Family Services Department.

Written by: Rebecca Hanlon
Story paid for by: York JCC
Carol Miller, director of the Family Services Department of the York JCC, discusses the evolution of Jewish Family Services.

Carol Miller remembers the time a volunteer walked into the office of Jewish Family Services. He had just returned from driving someone to a doctor’s appointment and told the story of his passenger who recently lost a job and needed food. The volunteer knew JFS could help.

From J Ride, JFS’s free transportation service, to Project Manna food pantry, or social programs that offer meaningful connections, like Stitches of Love and the Men’s Think Tank, the organization has touched many lives over the years.

“There is a heart here at JFS,” Miller says, as she recalls the six years she’s spent with the York County organization, most recently as its executive director. “We are the first place many people call when they need assistance or are experiencing a major life transition. We never want them to pick up the phone and find we aren’t there to help them.”

In June, the organization was officially acquired by the York Jewish Community Center, which has housed JFS for many years. Miller became the director of the new Family Services Department, bringing the programs she helped nurture over the years to a larger organization that could support them, and ultimately reaching more individuals and families in York.

“It’s an exciting time for us,” Miller says. “It brings a stability to our programs. It allows us to reach more people than ever before with our collective programs and services. I am excited for the future.”

The acquisition of Jewish Family Services by the York JCC strengthens both organizations, says CEO Jonah Geller, right. (Photo by Paul Chaplin for Our York Media)

Joining forces

Tracy Benenson has had many titles over the years she’s served on the board of JFS. She was secretary, vice president, and president. She even got her entire family to volunteer at several points.

As someone who converted to Judaism, JFS provided a place for Benenson to connect with a new community, where she could grow deeper in her faith as she connected with people who wanted to make York a better place.

As time went on, she noticed the financial strain the organization faced to keep up with the needs of the community. JFS still did its best to answer the call, but she saw change as inevitable.

The board started conversations years ago about merging with the York JCC. But, Benenson says, it was more to test the waters of what that would look like.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it seemed that change could not be put off any longer.

“It became a necessity so that our services could continue,” Benenson says. “It made sense to pursue that partnership. The York JCC can take full advantage of our programs while we can rely on them for the financial and personnel support we have sometimes struggled to have over the years. It keeps our mission alive, and that’s what’s most important to us.”

Volunteers help out in the organization's Project Manna food pantry and through programs like J Ride — a free transportation service for seniors. (Photos by Paul Chaplin for Our York Media)

Into the future

The banter at the table is exciting. With fingers busy twisting yarn around a plastic frame, the ladies of Stitches of Love met in June for the first time since before the March 2020 lockdown because of COVID-19. The hugs, laughs and stories were accompanied by sighs of relief for being together again.

It’s a similar feeling at the Men’s Think Tank, which met at Marino’s Pizza and Pasta House in Springettsbury Township, where a group of a dozen men, all of them retired, discussed politics, sports, and community news.

These meetings are just some of the signature social programs started by JFS. Miller, who usually lets each group interact as they choose, stopped by these first gatherings to share a hello and welcome them back. She beamed as she watched them.

Along with the JCC’s new CEO, Jonah Geller, Miller is excited to have a greater impact on individuals and families in York through the Family Services Department.

The JCC’s commitment to early childhood education, providing resources for families, and welcoming everyone into its center felt like a natural place for JFS to land. It strengthens both organizations, Geller says, because it enhances what the JCC can do in serving all ages, including its senior population.

“We are the Jewish Community Center, and given the fact that ‘community’ is literally our middle name, our arms and our hearts are open to anyone wants to be part of this community,” Geller says. “That’s what is so exciting about this acquisition. All ships rise when we get behind building community.”

Jewish Family Services has touched many lives over the years through its programs and will continue to do so under the York JCC. (Photo by Paul Chaplin for Our York Media)

Story paid for by York JCC

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