Jewish Federation of Ottawa has granted $79,900 from its Care for the Vulnerable Fund to four organizations dedicated to ensuring access and inclusion across a variety of projects and programs.
Through the Care for the Vulnerable Fund, Federation is assisting local Jewish organizations to increase the social inclusion and wellbeing of Jewish Ottawa’s vulnerable populations, and help prevent future vulnerability. The goals of the fund include reducing barriers to accessing local Jewish life, piloting new initiatives or projects that foster inclusion, and increasing organizational capacity to care for at-risk populations.
Four applications were funded. One such project is the Visits of Love program through A Ripple Effect, which received $6,500 for programming, along with $5,000 for a website overhaul. Organized by Rabbi Chaim and Bassy Mendelson, A Ripple Effect is a non-profit that gives youth the opportunity to bring a smile to a child’s face.
“We do a lot of comprehensive programming to help both children dealing with various disabilities and mental health issues, or those affected indirectly by those issues,” said Rabbi Mendelson. “Our programs help the children, their caregivers and parents, and the teens involved in volunteering.”
The Visits of Love program organizes matchups between teens and children with special needs.
“People deserve friendship,” said Rabbi Mendelson, explaining that this is the root of the program. “Basically, we have children who because of disability may suffer from loneliness. Some can’t attend school, or do attend school but find it difficult to make friends .. it’s a void in their lives. On the other side, you have young, vivacious teens who have all the things they need and sometimes get lost in their own lives. We pair them up — the teens go visit the children and magic happens.”
Rabbi Mendelson said the teens realize how valuable they can be to someone else, and the children being visited are overwhelmed by undivided attention from “cool” teenagers.
While the program began pre-COVID, it was much smaller. During the pandemic, the program grew and required specific organized elements like arts and crafts packages. Money from the Care for the Vulnerable Fund will go to enhancing these offerings, as well as adding opportunities for excursions like trips to the movies.
“Now our programs can be very personalized activities,” said Rabbi Mendelson. “Some of the kids are 14 and some are four, so it’s very different, the things they want to do. The fund really allows us to bring what we were doing during COVID and take it to a whole new level.”
Bassy said the feedback from the program is heart-warming.
“The feedback we get is that the kids look forward to this time all week long. It’s so special for them,” she said. “Parents tell us how much they’re smiling and laughing and having a great time. And as amazing as it is for the kids and parents, the teenagers gain even more. Giving back helps teens understand what’s important in life. We hear that from the teens and their parents too that it gives them a strong sense of what’s important as a Jew.”
Bassy said some teens even beg to remain in the program after they’ve graduated.
NCSY’s Live2Give program also encourages teens to volunteer and was a recipient of $8,400 from the Care for the Vulnerable Fund. The Live2Give program is bi-weekly and connects teens with vulnerable populations, like residents at the Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge or Tamir participants.
“For half the sessions last year, the teens did an intergenerational project, matching with residents at Hillel Lodge. They made video greeting cards for their buddies and made care packages so they felt that someone was thinking of them,” said Rabbi David Rotenberg. “When they weren’t doing the intergenerational projects, they did one-off projects to support a wide variety of causes in the community.”
Some of those one-off programs were partnering with the new Soup Registry to make a big batch or baking for the Kosher Food Bank.
“We called the program a success last year but at the same time, we really felt like there was more we could do,” said Rabbi Rotenberg. “When we were trying to support those other organizations we realized there were always supplies needed. Where does the budget come from to enable us to do these projects?”
When program coordinator Adina Kravitz saw the Care for the Vulnerable Fund, she knew it could provide the crucial funds to make the Live2Give program even better. With the money received, they are planning two large baking events for Chanukah and Purim, projects with Street Smarts, a connection with Tamir, and more.
“Chesed is a huge value in Judaism, so it’s something we’re really trying to have students learn — not just about Jewish values but to act on Jewish values at such a crucial time in their development, their formative years,” said Rabbi Rotenberg.
“We’ve also seen through our programming that there are a lot of young people with a real appetite for this kind of work in the community. We want to give them an outlet for that.”
And without transportation services provided by Jewish Family Services (JFS), some of the intergenerational participants in these youth-led activities might not be able to take part. JFS received $30,000 from the Care for the Vulnerable Fund for a transportation van — its upkeep and maintenance, a driver, and a coordinator.
Primarily, the van will be used for the Meals on Wheels program, which Laura Thomas said has seen rapid expansion.
“Before COVID, we had about eight seniors getting meals a few times a week, as a very small program. With the lockdowns, the need grew — last week, we helped 40 different individuals, plus [delivered] three large hospital orders,” said Thomas, director of senior services. “We were using our drivers from the medical transportation program, but that van and those drivers have to get back on the road as we return to regular services post-COVID.”
JFS plans to expand the use of the van beyond delivering meals, to ensure any individual in the community can be helped with their transportation needs.
“We knew firsthand from our work in the community that there was a need to access transportation,” said Thomas. “There was a lot of potential for this van in the community.”
The van was purchased through funds from the Bickel Foundation, but the Care for the Vulnerable funding will provide salary monies for a coordinator to arrange requests, as well as to tackle the gas costs.
“It’s so exciting,” said Thomas about the van finishing being retrofitted and getting on the road. “I’m still a little bit in shock! Federation is just so supportive and really appreciates the work we do at JFS. We’re all engaged in the success of our community.”
Torah Day School of Ottawa also received $30,000 from the fund for a standardized test kit to support special education assessments and services. (No representative of the school was available for an interview at the time of the newsletter. For more information about Torah Day, visit https://www.torahday.ca/)