By Laura Linder and Larry Skolnick

This is a story about a partnership that may not exist in any other community. It’s about two agencies coming together to solve problems that no single agency could tackle alone.

This story isn’t only about Memphis Jewish Federation (MJF) fundraising or a vital service provided by the Memphis Jewish Community Center (MJCC). It’s about a commitment that the two largest agencies in our Jewish community made together five and a half years ago to serve the most vulnerable people in our community.

It’s the story of the new Jewish Family Service (JFS).

Memphis Jewish Federation’s (MJF) 2014 Needs Assessment Study was an eye-opener, revealing realities across our community that have led to important changes across multiple agencies. One stark fact emerged about JFS: the needs of the Jewish community weren’t being fully met. More families were living in poverty than we knew. Food insecurity was more significant than we thought. Jewish families didn’t know where to turn for help, special needs families had no services. We had underestimated the extent of the need.

When JFS approached our organizations looking to partner on solutions we acted quickly, assembling a task force from professional and lay leadership at the MJCC, MJF, and JFS. A core partnership coalesced, and a new operating model was hatched. MJCC would operate JFS, and Federation would provide the funding.

We started rebuilding JFS from scratch, and in year one served 450 Jewish clients. Four years into the partnership we’ve seen remarkable successes, with record numbers of Jewish families being served. Now, as JFS evolves to stay ahead of changing needs in a changing community it’s vital that we rally the Memphis Jewish community to ensure the organization has the resources it needs to serve families for generations to come.

JFS must find a way to be self-sustainable while remaining positioned to adapt to shifting needs. We think often of the next generation of seniors. Today we serve most clients in partnership with local family members, but data hints that in 15 years a disproportionate number of seniors without local caregivers will rely on the safety net JFS provides on a daily basis. Special needs adults are also at risk as their parents and siblings age and lose the ability to provide care. These vulnerable members of our community can’t be set adrift.

Through our partnership, we can help the community live up to our obligation as Jews to take care of the needy among us. Because of MJCC’s management and MJF’s fundraising, 100% of JFS staff is focused on delivering services. They don’t worry about accounting, HR, marketing, keeping the lights on. We took all of that out so the team can laser-focus on what they excel at and are passionate about, which is making sure our Jewish community gets the care that’s needed.

Because of the careful structure of this partnership, overhead costs are exceptionally low allowing our senior administrative professional, Mary Elizabeth Jones, to be hands-on, doing what she does best. As the Director of JFS, Mary Elizabeth is fully integrated into the senior management team at the MJCC. Because of this integration we now have eyes and ears with access to an entire community through the microcosm of the Center and are better able to offer early interventions to people, preventing small problems from becoming big crises. It’s now a matter of a phone call and in five minutes someone from JFS is helping that family.

Our Jewish values teach us that people shouldn’t have to come and ask for help. Help should be given without having to ask for it. The talented staff hired to run the new JFS keeps client self-respect at the forefront. It’s a group of professionals that represent our Jewish community values, and the spirit of who they are and how their work shows through.

Going forward the key is to position JFS to be self-sufficient, ensuring that we are able to evolve as the needs of the community evolve. We worked hard together to carefully craft a plan that works. We’ll continue to leverage the deep talent at both the MJCC and MJF to empower the expert JFS team to help every Jewish need be met.