Wendy Levin-Shaw came to work as a therapist at what was then Jewish Family & Children’s Service in 1997. As a graduate student in social work earlier in her life, Wendy had always hoped to work for a JFCS-like organization. She has always been deeply connected to her Jewish heritage, and wanted to work professionally in a role that would connect to her faith. And now after many years, that old dream was coming true.
The biggest change at JFCS during her years here is the growth, says Wendy. “The Counseling and Seniors Departments were larger then and services to immigrants and refugees much smaller,” she says.” Also, the staff and services were much less diverse. In fact that is the other metamorphosis that is most noticeable. Then, the majority of the staff and clients were Jewish. That is no longer true as JFCS has become a service agency for the entire community.
She says that follows with the expansion of services to meet more peoples’ needs. Services to refugees and immigrants have become core services, bringing a wide variety of staff people. “It’s wonderful how JFCS has grown to be such a vital part of the entire community.”
Wendy speaks proudly of the opportunities that she has had at JFCS. She facilitated groups for interfaith couples, and also for grandparents of grandchildren growing up in interfaith families. She founded, along with Israeli colleagues, a project linking social service professionals in Pittsburgh with those in Karmiel and Misgav, sister cities in Israel. More recently she has been helping the JFCS Immigration Legal Services staff learn more about Self-care.
“It’s like they say on the airplane when the flight attendant reminds everyone to put their own oxygen masks on first and then help others,” she says. “We get so involved with clients’ lives, especially people who have come here from other countries. Many have painful stories to tell and the need for legal services for immigrants has greatly increased. This can affect the ability of staff members to provide the best service. In order to remain effective and empathetic to our clients, we need to review our own expectations, boundaries and values from time to time. In addition, learning and practicing techniques for breathing slowly and calmly helps to restore our balance.”
Wendy and her husband recently sold their house (“the kid-raising house”) and downsized to a half-duplex. Similarly she sees fewer clients now in a new private practice. With grandchildren living here, and two of her children split on the east and west coasts, she’ll have plenty to do with her time.
Wendy says what she has always valued most about working at JFCS is the values of the organization. “There is a commitment to Jewish values: respect, kindness, and welcoming the stranger. There’s recognition and respect for Jewish observance as well as commitment to the larger community. After October 27th, JFCS really stood up for the our community. That vision of inclusion, acceptance and lifting the entire community together – that’s powerful.”