I’ve been a resource specialist at Staten Island Family Services for 12 years. The staff members in our nine programs all have some clients with very specific needs: a child who needs tutoring, someone having trouble with Supplemental Security Income (SSI), another in need of a coat. They come to me and ask if I know anyone that can help; a place to get steered in the right direction.
Part of my role here is doing home assessments. When you go into a home, you might notice that there’s no food. Sometimes when you enter the home you might see a cup of soup, a little TV dinner, or nothing. That’s when I go into the community and see who can assist these families. I go to different organizations and businesses, tell them about the work we do, and ask if they can help.
One of the things I’m the proudest of is when I helped start a chain link of support throughout Staten Island. I went to the North Shore Rotary and did a presentation at one of their meetings one night. That meeting has doctors, lawyers, real estate brokers, morticians, all part of the rotary. And I linked up with each person and said, “Can you help us?” And they do.
Staten Islanders provide our clients with food, clothing, furniture, and back to school supplies. A lot of the families we serve don’t have the funds to get school supplies, so the Rotary Club donated over 50 fully-loaded backpacks. There’s one particular set of twins on Rector Street who gave us Yankee memorabilia rings. The Staten Island Yankees brought Scooter the “Holy Cow” over for a photoshoot. During that year’s school supply drive, along with books, pens, and everything they would need to start their first day of school, we were able to give each child a ring and a photo with Scooter.
The rings and photos aren’t typical for a supply drive, but things like that make a child feel special. It’s more than just giving them just what they need, but making them know they matter. Those incredibly generous extra efforts help so much with the therapy and concrete services we provide, because it helps the children feel human. Sometimes we have kids who don’t want to go to school because they don’t look or feel like the other kids, and this helps address that.
Another project we do each year is with the help of Traci Cangino, a local realtor. She puts boxes at her offices which the brokers would fill with food. Her children perform community service by going to supermarkets asking shoppers to help fill a cart with food to donate. Last Thanksgiving, thanks to their efforts we were able to distribute around 50 Thanksgiving kits. And like the rings for children, those kits mattered so much.
We like giving everyone a Thanksgiving kit because you can come to a place for therapy when you’re working with a particular issue, but families need more than that to empower themselves, to make them feel, “I’m just like everybody else.” The preparation of the food, the family getting together and preparing it and eating it, it’s a very important experience for families.
A lot of our clients don’t want to ask for this kind of help, and we’re sensitive to that. We want to empower families, but we’ll know there are situations where we can help and they’ll benefit. We’ll say, “Hey we have this” so they don’t feel like they have to ask for charity.
Working here is like family, like a second home. Even when we’re not here with each other, we keep in touch with each other outside of the office. The Jewish Board makes a difference in people’s lives and helps address the many concerns and conflicts that families have—it’s a good place to be if you want to make a difference.
I see it as a mission and joy.
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