Programs for seniors and teens will be highlighted at the annual gala dinner-dance of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County.
“An Evening of Syncopated Rhythm” will pay tribute to Greenwood House, a senior assisted-living facility in Ewing, and Gesher LeKesher, a JFCS teen mentoring program.
The honorees, say the agency leaders, exemplify the agency’s commitment to clients of all ages.
“This is an intergenerational opportunity to highlight quality programs across the age span,” said JFCS executive director Linda Meisel.
Creating teen leaders
Gesher LeKesher (“Bridge to a Connection”) links high school juniors and seniors with younger students in monthly mentoring groups held at JFCS. The model for the program was developed in 2000 by the Princeton Center for Leadership Training.
“This is a really important Jewish continuity program that enables Jewish teens to be leaders. It has been very meaningful for us to see what these students have done with the leadership skills they’ve gained through Gesher,” Meisel said.
Gesher LeKesher, now in its 10th year, is the only trans-congregational teen leadership program in the Princeton Mercer Bucks community, said Meisel. The program averages about 40 participants a year and currently involves teens from three participating Conservative and Reform temples: The Jewish Center of Princeton, Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor, and Har Sinai Temple in Pennington.
“The Gesher program was created because there was no successful community-wide high school experience for Jewish teens,” said Debra H. Levenstein, JFCS’s director of prevention and support services. “This is a program that makes my heart sing. Watching some of these kids walk in for the first time like a deer caught in headlights — then by the time they complete the program they are masters and mentors who can stand in front of any group.”
For Hannah Heller of West Windsor, Gesher helped cultivate her interest in pursuing a degree in art education. A former Gesher “madriha,” or guide, Hannah is currently studying for a master’s degree in museum education at Tufts University.
“Gesher is an opportunity to shape minds and inspire others,” Hannah said. “I felt very responsible and conscientious to be in a position of influence, and I really valued the training we had.”
Michael Alter of East Windsor attended the program as a student in the eighth and ninth grades, eventually becoming a mentor.
“They taught in a way that was very interesting, tying in Jewish themes in everyday situations. I decided it was something I would do when I was old enough,” said Michael, who studies political science and economics at Rutgers University. “I got a lot of leadership and public speaking skills. For me the most meaningful moments as a mentor were when the shy, quiet kids suddenly broke out of their shell and began to express themselves.”
The program helps teens see that Judaism is more than “specific religious observance,” said Robby Devery of Princeton Junction, whose son Dan, 22, completed the program, and daughter Sarah, 18, is in her second year as a mentor.
“It’s a way of thinking and being involved in the community,” Devery said. “It helps problem-solving and empowers teens to use their own minds for resolutions and solutions in a Jewish paradigm. It’s given them the ability to communicate clearly and effectively.”
A team effort
Greenwood House is the only nonprofit Jewish skilled nursing facility that accepts Medicaid in central New Jersey.
“We coordinate our efforts with JFCS to optimize the resources and services for the elderly in the community, so that people can receive the assistance they need in the appropriate setting,” said Richard Goldstein, Greenwood’s executive director. “Sometimes people call us and don’t need assisted living but they do need counseling from JFCS. Sometimes seniors turn to JFCS who do need assisted living but don’t know about us. We really complement each other’s resources.”
Meanwhile, JFCS collaborates with Greenwood House on efforts like its kosher nutrition and meals-on-wheels programs, providing more than 2,600 meals a year to homebound seniors in the area.
The team effort inspires family members of Greenwood residents, such as Steve Gable of Newtown, Pa., to get actively involved. His mother has been a resident since 2008.
“I really appreciate the interconnection between JFCS and Greenwood House. It’s a true team effort in support of the community, and it’s reflected in the dedication of the staff at both organizations,” said.
Gable has given back by volunteering in the garden bordering Greenwood’s outdoor patio, emceeing at a fashion show, donating sailing lessons at a silent auction, and delivering Kosher Meals on Wheels.
“It’s such a good caring environment for my mom,” he said. “It can’t be all about taking; it must be about sharing and giving back.”