Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh

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Stories of Hope

Jewish Family & Children's Service was founded on the concept of Tikkun Olam, repair the world. Our mission is to make the world a better place; and we do that by improving lives, one person at a time. We are dedicated to helping people deal with change that threatens one's well-being, whether it be from "normal" lifecycle transitions like adolescence, aging or death or unexpected crises like poverty, infertility or unemployment.

Adhering to the highest level of professional standards and social work principles, JF&CS offers services within an environment of caring and respect for human dignity and diversity. We help those we serve to turn life's challenges into opportunities, to improve their lives and to find new hope.


Samir's Story

Samir AlQass Ishaq lived in Baghdad with his wife and two young boys, working as an electrician in a small shop and volunteering for the Red Cross. His sense of security was shattered after his life was threatened by terrorists who thought Samir was a traitor. They blew up his shop. They tried to kidnap his wife. They promised to kill him.

For several months Samir and his family hid out with relatives and eventually fled with his family to Syria where he was not permitted to work because of his refugee status. Samir knew that he could not return to normal life in Baghdad.


In August 2010, the U.N. brought Samir to America and in January 2011 his wife, Siba, and two sons followed.

Upon arriving in Pittsburgh, JF&CS’s Refugee Services Program provided the AlQass Ishaq family with all of the essentials, including a furnished apartment, food and clothing, and with an ongoing support system – which includes information and referral, benefits enrollment, employment services and more – to ensure their success.

Samir now works at a local hotel doing maintenance and repair work. Both boys are enrolled in the Keystone Oaks School District, while Siba takes English classes and looks for part-time work.

According to Samir, what they’ve left behind in Iraq is small compared to the freedom they’ve gained by coming to America. “I am rich,” Samir said. “I have my family. I have my freedom. I can go anywhere, and no one will follow me. I will not be killed. My family is safe.”

Sara's Story

When Sara began to suffer physical abuse at the hands of her husband, she took her two children and fled across state lines to a women's shelter in Pittsburgh. A caseworker there was able to secure funding for Sara for a security deposit and one month's rent on an apartment. Before she was married, Sara was a registered nurse, but her husband didn't allow her to work. Without a current nursing license or recent work history, the only job she could get was one for which she earned minimum wage.

Her salary wasn't enough to cover the family's basic needs and before long Sara faced eviction. She was dejected and downtrodden; terrified that she would have to return to her abusive husband to keep her children from being homeless.

A JF&CS critical needs social worker identified several areas of need and put into place the resources required to get Sara through her crisis. She was enrolled in JF&CS's Squirrel Hill Food Pantry, and JF&CS advocated on her behalf with her landlord for a deferral on her rent. Funds were secured through JF&CS’s SOS Pittsburgh fund to enroll Sara in a refresher course and to pay for her test and RN license renewal. JF&CS's CDC helped Sara with her resume, cover letters, interviewing skills and job search.

Sara came to us with a spirit crushed by misfortune. Today, she has a good job, a nice apartment and a bright future for herself and her children.

Jake's Story

Jake's 78-year-old mother suffered from bipolar disorder, and after his father injured himself in a fall, he was no longer able to care properly for his wife. Living in Boston, Jake couldn't give his parents the daily assistance they required and began to search for help in Pittsburgh. He came across the web site for JF&CS and wanted his mother and father to seek care through our agency. But his parents prided themselves on their independence and were reluctant to seek outside aid.

A caregiver arranged through JF&CS now visits Jake’s parents twice a week to provide them with the extra help they need in their home.

An experienced geriatric care coordinator from JF&CS arranged a family consultation with Jake and his parents to discuss the options for their care—both now and in the future. With patience and understanding, she helped his parents understand their need for additional help and then began to put the right supports in place. A caregiver arranged through JF&CS now visits Jake's parents twice a week to provide them with the extra help they need in their home—everything from housekeeping to making doctor appointments. Their care coordinator also makes monthly home visits and frequent phone calls to the couple to track their progress and judge whether their current services are adequate. With their approval, she provides Jake with regular updates, giving him more peace of mind about his parents—even from hundreds of miles away.

Alicia & Jeff’s Story

When Alicia and Jeff's 17-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia, he had to attend many doctor's appointments and required extensive home care as well. In order to care for her son during this time, Alicia took an unpaid leave from her job, putting a strain on family finances.

I don’t know what we would have done without the Food Pantry.

The family received assistance from the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry staff, which enrolled them in the food stamp program in addition to providing the family with supplemental food. While the family received services, Alicia found time to volunteer and help pack bags at the Pantry as a way to give back for the help she and her family received. "I don't know what we would have done without the Food Pantry," she said. "I was so grateful for their help."

After a few months, Alicia and Jeff's son was doing well enough with his treatment that Alicia could return to work part-time, and the family no longer needed Food Pantry support.

Mark's Story

Mark's company has downsized several times, and as a result, he has been asked to take on a lot of additional work. His job situation was stressful, and he wasn't handling the pressure well.

Although grateful that he still had a job, Mark was stressed because of his additional responsibilities. Not only did he have a larger workload, some of his newly assigned tasks were unfamiliar.  He worried that he would not be able to master them.

Working with a Squirrel Hill Psychological Services counselor, Mark learned a number of stress-reduction techniques.

As a result of the stress, Mark started having chest pains and trouble sleeping. After finding no physiological causes for those symptoms, he turned to Squirrel Hill Psychological Services for counseling.

Working with a Squirrel Hill Psychological Services counselor, Mark learned a number of stress-reduction techniques. He identified ways in which he could be more assertive at work and developed coping strategies that helped him deal with the aspects of his job that cannot be changed. He also considered whether he should change jobs or even professional fields.

Mark's counseling sessions helped him change his outlook on work. He feels much more secure in his job now, and he has decided to stay with his company in his current line of work. "I'm even starting to plan for my future career path with this firm," Mark says.

Zachary’s Story

Zachary's parents were just coming to terms with his autism diagnosis when it came time for the 6-year-old to start kindergarten. The young boy didn't make eye contact or try to establish friendships. He often repeated the same phrases over and over again. Body rocking and hand flapping scared other children away. Zachary's mother and father wanted their son to succeed in school and knew early intervention was critical. But they didn't know what programs and services were available—or his legal rights as a child with a developmental disorder.

Zachary relates better to other children and communicates more, according to Special Needs case workers.

One phone call to the knowledgeable and empathetic resource coordinator in JF&CS's Special Needs department gave Zachary's parents access to the resources they needed to make sure their son could reach his highest potential. They were directed to web sites to learn about special education law and given booklets and videos teaching them how to participate in the educational decision-making for Zachary. JF&CS explained what responsibilities the public school district had related to their son and how to take action if they disagreed with his special education plan, and let them know that JF&CS would advocate on their behalf, should they need our assistance.

Zachary is now a second-grader who receives speech and physical therapy, psychological counseling and the personal attention in the classroom he requires. He relates better to other children and communicates more, according to Special Needs case workers. "Without the valuable information we provided, his parents may not have known their son's rights and how to protect them—or understood how to make sure he received the best education possible," they say.

Sana's Story

Sana, a widow with six children, is a Pakistani refugee who came to the United States seven and a half years ago.

Because Sana's other three children were under age 18, they automatically became U.S. citizens when their mother did. However, children do not automatically receive certificates showing their citizenship. Sana was attempting to get disability benefits from Social Security for her youngest son, who was born with cerebral palsy, but she was facing a number of bureaucratic hurdles in the process because her son did not have a certificate of citizenship.

The JF&CS staff helped Sana and her family through the process of applying for the fee waiver.

Sana came to JF&CS's Pittsburgh Refugee and Immigration Assistance Center (PRIAC) for help in obtaining her son's Social Security benefits. She could have filed for a citizenship certificate for him, but that process involves fees that her family could not afford on its meager income. She was eligible for a fee waiver, however, so the PRIAC staff assisted her through the many steps in that lengthy and complicated process.

The staff helped Sana and her family through the process of applying for the fee waiver, and only one step remains, submitting receipts showing one month of household expenses. After that is complete, Sana will be able to obtain a citizenship certificate for her son and begin to receive his SSI benefits.

Dana's Story

After her parents died, Dana was the sole heir to their sizeable estate, which included a beautiful home. Because she was mentally retarded, Dana had legal guardians who were supposed to look out for her interests but instead took advantage of her situation and were negligent in their duties. In at least one instance, the guardian—a family member—helped herself to money that was Dana's. Dana was left penniless, and because no one was adequately monitoring her finances, she constantly overdrew her accounts and was able to open up several credit cards, ending up deep in debt.

Dana is transitioning to a group home and is paying off her debts with income from her part-time job.

Family court stepped in and appointed JF&CS Guardian for Dana. JF&CS cut off Dana's access to her accounts and established a plan for her to pay down her debt, which had mushroomed to $75,000. The case workers also needed to plan for Dana's future. Although she was medically stable and high functioning, she was still getting older and facing all of the problems associated with aging. Dana had lived with the same caregiver for 15 years, but that woman developed her own medical issues that compromised her ability to care for Dana.

"We decided to move Dana out of her home for health and safety reasons," Dana's caseworkers said. Dana is transitioning to a group home and is paying off her debts with income from her part-time job.

Cindy & Mark's Story

When Cindy and Mark decided to adopt a second child, they told everyone they knew in the hope that a relative or a friend might be able to connect them with a birth mother. It worked. A few weeks later, Cindy's brother told them of an acquaintance in his Florida town who was pregnant but did not want to keep the baby. Cindy and Mark were thrilled, but they had to jump through a number of logistical hoops before their dream would come true. They called on Family Hope Connection (FHC) to help.

FHC caseworkers worked with Cindy and Mark to complete all of the prerequisite paperwork and activities that are mandated for adoptive parents.

FHC caseworkers worked with Cindy and Mark to complete all of the prerequisite paperwork and activities that are mandated for adoptive parents. Cindy and Mark attended required training courses provided by FHC, and the caseworkers conducted a home study to ensure that the environment was an appropriate one for a child. They also helped Cindy and Mark gather the necessary documentation, such as autobiographical essays. Additionally, when Cindy and Mark had any concerns or became nervous that the birth mother might change her mind, the FHC caseworkers supported them and offered them guidance.

After securing approval from the appropriate agencies, Cindy and Mark not only were able to bring a second child into their family, the couple also was able to be at the hospital for their daughter's birth. They have a wonderful expanded family, and have established an ongoing relationship with the birth mother as well.


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Watch our video highlighting our commitment to diversity and inclusion!
Learn more about how JF&CS is championing diversity and inclusion for everyone in our region.
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Volunteer opportunities at JF&CS
Help older adults remain active and independent in our community, stock shelves and help clients shop at the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry, practice English with refugees and more! Connect with your volunteer passion at JF&CS.
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TAKE ACTION: Guidance for conversations about refugees & immigrants
When talking with fellow community members, these talking points can help guide conversations about JF&CS’s work with refugees and legal immigrants in our region.
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Your dollars directly help us provide support, services and resources for refugees and legal immigrants in our region. Your financial contributions are needed now more than ever.
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The JF&CS 2015-2016 Annual Report tells you all about what we've been up to, complete with client stories, facts and figures, and more!
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