January 12, 2009

JDC Brings Essential and Life-Affirming Care to Elderly and People with Disabilities

Innes and Levirana, Sderot residents, are both victims of recent rocket attacks. Yet, as their homes were not directly hit, it is unlikely that their stories will be told on the news. The trauma and pain that they experience could go unnoticed and untreated by the outside world.

Fortunately for these women, they are not invisible to JDC: they know that there is someone there who cares for them at all times. Innes and Levirana are members of two JDC programs in Sderot: the Supportive Community for the Disabled, and Supportive Community for the Elderly, respectively.

Innes, a fifty-something veteran Sderot resident, is physically disabled. She can only move around with the aid of a walker. Innes was wounded recently during a Kassam attack. Her home was not hit, but when the “Code Red” alert sounded, she darted for safety and fell. Subsequently hospitalized, Innes returned home a day later to the same apartment but with injuries and an extra layer of fear and concern for her personal security.

Levirana, 83, an immigrant from Ukraine and a Holocaust survivor, has lived in Sderot for 12 years. She has no family in Israel. When a Kassam recently fell in an open space adjacent to the public housing project where she lives, her home was damaged: windows were shattered, shutters were torn apart, and her air conditioning unit was wrecked, expelling liquids and fumes. The exterior apartment wall was packed full of holes and the external gas supply, pierced multiple times with shrapnel, had to be turned off immediately.

JDC originally designed the Supportive Community Program model to promote independent living among Israeli seniors, allowing them to age in place. In the past eight years, the model has been developed and adapted in two additional directions—to assist people with disabilities, and to offer upgraded emergency help to both populations during times of conflict. A comprehensive basket of services is provided to the elderly and the disabled. Central to the success of both programs is the ‘community parent,’ who acts as a case manager, constantly reaching out to members, checking their well-being, and ensuring that their needs are taken care of.

In Innes’s case, community parent Yaakov Shwartz was there to ensure that she was accompanied to the hospital and had what she needed upon her return home, such as food and help with daily chores. Yaakov was well prepared to help Innes, since checking in with his Supportive Community members after attacks is part of his daily routine.

For Levirana, it was Alah—community parent and fellow immigrant—who calmed and reassured this elderly woman, who sat paralyzed and crying uncontrollably. Then she arranged for local volunteers to come clear Levirana’s apartment, including cleaning up glass splinters and taping plastic across the bare window frames. Together with other JDC staff, Alah also coordinated the various agencies that needed to come in to evaluate the damage and helped ensure that the gas company quickly restored supply so Levirana could cook on her gas stove.

Yaakov, Alah, and other JDC Supportive Community staff in Sderot and across the country report that in 95% of cases, members share the difference the personal call or visit makes to their lives and that it gives them the strength to carry on.

With this knowledge, the Government of Israel, together with JDC, has initiated “120 Strong,” a program to offer immediate outreach and response to the elderly and the disabled in the conflict zone. Planned for three months or longer, 180 trained case managers will be mobilized to be responsible for cohorts of 120 people in the 25-mile radius of the crisis.

These case managers will responsible for addressing the individual needs of elderly and disabled residents in their charge. They will offer the essential personal care and attention that JDC’s Supportive Community experience has shown to be so life-affirming.

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