July 3, 2009

JDC’s Jewish Family Service Model Helps Single Mother in Hungary Overcome Hardship

The circumstances of poverty are as diverse as the people struggling to overcome them.

Consider Hanna, a 53-year-old mother of six who lives with her two youngest children—Jozsef (16), and Gabor (10)—and her mother, a Holocaust survivor.

Three years ago, Hanna’s husband died and her family was thrust into a spiraling period of hardship. She found herself involved in a complicated dispute over her home. While embroiled in this legal battle, she lost her job and was unable to keep up with the monthly bills. Eventually, the family was forced to move to a house in a small town outside of Budapest.

Hanna was grateful to find shelter for her children but the new house was a hovel—no drainage system, no running water, and no gas for heating or cooking. The family gathered wood and twigs to burn for heat. They washed their clothes in an old wash basin and heated the water on an open fire in front of the house. Hot meals were a rarity, and even affording school meals for her children was a problem. For months, Hanna’s inability to pay created problems with the school administration.

In a state of desperation, Hanna turned to the JDC-run Jaffe Jewish Family Service (JFS).

Based in Hungary, JFS is a JDC-supported umbrella organization that provides and coordinates comprehensive social support services and referrals for nearly 700 children. JFS extends the reach of existing social welfare programs so that they can provide additional programming and professional support to greater numbers of impoverished Jews. Through JFS, families like Hanna’s acquire greater access to community, local, and government resources to ensure that their most pressing needs are met.

When approached by Hanna, the JFS staff immediately arranged for her children to receive three hot meals a day. They also helped Hanna purchase the children’s school supplies and paid the family’s outstanding debts and the cost of medicines. A week after connecting with JFS, the family was invited to a clothing store where the children received new clothes.

Because JDC recognized the need and took action, JFS is able to help this and other families at risk. Several years ago, JDC commissioned a study that revealed the depth and reach of poverty among Jewish children and young families in Hungary, and indicated that the hope for a secure Jewish future was being undermined by the fact that many Jews were not receiving the support needed to secure their physical and psychological well-being. JDC created JFS to fill that gap. Thanks to the generosity of the Jaffe family of Tidewater, Virginia, this effective framework is addressing the complex and diverse economic, psychological, and communal challenges facing Jewish children and their families in the region.

JFS assistance goes well beyond an initial helping hand, as Hanna discovered. JFS staff contacted the JDC-run Foundation for Holocaust survivors about her mother. The foundation purchased a water heater and installed gas and draining systems in their house. They now have running water and can cook warm meals every day.

With basic living conditions secured, the children were then placed in an afterschool program organized by the JFS Mentor Program and the Olami summer day camp at the JDC-supported Balint JCC. Meanwhile, Hanna enrolled in a Parent Efficiency Development program (PED), a support program for troubled parents run by the JFS.

Now able to think beyond day-to-day survival, Hanna credits the program with helping her gain confidence and improved communication skills: “Thanks to the Jaffe JFS, I live a happier life and a more meaningful one.”

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