Saying the last 18 months have been one of the "saddest chapters in our country’s history," the executive vice president of UJA-Federation detailed his organization’s struggle to deal with the impact of welfare reform.
"I can report to you the panic that ensued" as legal immigrants here more than five years realized they would lose Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid and food stamps, Stephen Solender told a recent UJA-Federation-sponsored legislative breakfast.
"There were people in that group who were capable of gaining citizenship and we raised $1 million" to train them to take the citizenship exam, he noted. "We at UJA-Federation said we would not neglect the Jewish community."
He said UJA-Federation worked with federal, state and local lawmakers to "try to undo the damage" from welfare reform and in the meantime worked to "keep people going."
"We want to be sensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable in our midst. As we go through a period of downsizing, which is supported by UJA-Federation, we do it in a sensitive way," Solender said.He pointed out that there are 24 agencies of the UJA-Federation network on Long Island operating in the area of human services.
"There are two major day camp sites, six Jewish community centers, three community councils, eight home service agencies, three medical centers and four agencies working for Jewish education," he said. "We are serving people from the cradle to the grave."
Morton Certilman, chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Board, pointed out that the 300,000 Jews on Long Island represent the third largest Jewish community in the country. He noted that the UJA-Federation agencies here employ 9,930 Long Islanders and an additional 1,200 seasonal employees. Their payroll exceeds $340 million and they have a combined operating budget of more than $400 million to serve 1 million Long Islanders and their families.Their basic objective, he said, is to keep families strong. To do that, they have a job training program, a job bank and a myriad of social service agencies. Among them are two geriatric centers, self-help agencies and Hillels on several college campuses.
"UJA-Federation takes a little bit of the burden off government," said Certilman in explaining the organization’s role to the 100 legislators and community leaders in attendance at the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview.
"UJA-Federation has programs for domestic violence, teen counseling, disadvantaged care and widow support groups. These alleviate the need for the government to provide these services and help Long Island at a time of cultural and economic change. Its social service agencies support the system that enable Long Island residents to cope with these changes."
In his remarks, Solender said UJA-Federation had to do more in terms of community-based services on Long Island, despite all of the work ongoing. Among them are:
# The Jewish Association for Services to the Aged participates in a Nassau County-wide program that provides case management services, such as home assessment, completion of state-mandated forms, client monitoring, shopping and cleaning for the homebound.
# The Suffolk Jewish Communal Planning Council has developed a web site that enables Long Islanders to access resources provided by the Jewish community.
# The Stepfamily Center at the Suffolk Y JCC in Commack is the only program in Suffolk County designed exclusively for stepfamilies. It provides support groups for adults, children, a resource library and teen activities.
# The Suffolk Y JCC operates a drug and alcohol education and prevention program designed to educate parents about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and the pressures facing children that may lead to drug abuse. A new aspect of the program brings together children in the Suffolk Y’s latchkey program to talk about their feelings, fear and experiences. There are also intergenerational nights that give parents and teens from different families a chance to talk freely without fear of recrimination.
# The Gurwin Health Careers Program, offered in conjunction with local high schools, is designed to sensitize young people who are interested in healthcare-related careers about the unique needs of the elderly. At the same time, it enhances the atmosphere for Gurwin residents. Solender pointed out that some of the students in the program are teens at risk who gain the ability to feel successful and valuable while providing much appreciated support.
Solender pointed out that these programs are being run with the help of state funds secured by state Sens. James Lack (R-Hauppauge) and Carl Marcellino (R-Oyster Bay).
He noted also that Marcellino and the Suffolk County Legislature provided funds to support the library of the Suffolk Association for Jewish Educational Services. SAJES plays a major role in organizing the annual educators’ conference that concentrates on "combating the scourge of prejudice." It is attended by hundreds of teachers each year, he said.
Solender cited also state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) for securing state funds to finance an intergroup relations program that allows the Conference of Organizations of Nassau County to work within the countyís school system to help students identify prejudice and alert communities to acts of violence or harassment.
"You are all performing sacred services to our community and I want to pledge to public officials that UJA-Federation will be full partners with you," he said.