Repairing the World

Jewish Family and Children’s Services has been part of the Twin Cities for over a hundred years.

Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase usually translated as “repair of the world.” It speaks to the idea of human responsibility for correcting wrongs and healing wounds. Repairing the world is an unimaginably long and difficult task, but each person is responsible for doing what they can, where they are.

Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS), which has been based in Minnetonka for many years— it’s moving to a new home in Golden Valley this spring—has been trying to live out that mission by offering support to the Twin Cities community since 1910. Founded to support refugees and immigrants, JFCS was a response to a specific need. The original benefactors were themselves immigrants who had become successful in their new home and wanted to give a hand up to a new wave of immigrants. Within a decade, the organization hired its first social worker and expanded to include other members of the Twin Cities community. Today, the organization staffs 120 people and is powered by hundreds of volunteers.

CEO Judy Halper says JFCS offers a wide range of social services to a broad community—not just the Jewish community. JFCS addresses the needs of people at every stage of life: from children as young as 18 months to seniors struggling to hold onto their independence.

“Ideally, we’d like to put ourselves out of business,” Halper says. “But in the meantime, while there is still need, we try to fix as many problems as we’re able.”
Each JFCS program has a particular quality Halper says makes it unique in the Twin Cities. For instance, the Parent-Child Home Program, which is supported by a grant from the state of Minnesota, focuses on early education in the home. Staff members visit families twice a week and provide them with toys and educational reading materials to give their children the best possible start.

The career services JFCS offers are not one-size-fits-all. “It’s a boutique service,” Halper says. “A lot of programs tend to be very impersonal—ours is very individually tailored to that particular person’s needs and goals.”

The same can be said for the aging services, which recognize the value of living independently. “We want to give that little extra something that lets people stay in their homes,” Halper says.
Therapy and counselling services are offered on a sliding-fee scale based on income. No one is turned away because they can’t pay.

Still another way JFCS interacts with the community is the Big Brother/Big Sister program. When Annette Knotz was 11, she matched with a Big Sister. The program had a huge impact on her and gave her a lifelong connection to the JFCS. Her own children now participate in programs like the PJ Library program, which sends children books about Jewish lives and events, and encourages reading at home (in your PJs!). Knotz credits JFCS with supporting her family both financially and emotionally over the years.

She says she was often angry and isolated as young girl, and her Big Sister was important in helping her to work through a lot of tragedy—including the death of her mother. “Without JFCS, my family wouldn’t be as close as we are,” Knotz says. “Without the help of JFCS programs, I don’t think I would have learned how to love myself, and then I couldn’t have loved my husband Jeffery and my children.”

Even though JFCS is moving soon—the grand opening for their new facility in Golden Valley is in May—Halper is quick to say that doesn’t mean they’re leaving the community. “I feel extremely confident many of the people we currently serve in Minnetonka will continue to be clients,” she says.