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Thanking Our Front Line Helpers

Posted by JCC Pittsburgh on October 13, 2020

Who’s on the front line? Thanking our JCC front line workers.

7-7-21 – Many Thanks, Amy!

 

Trish and Amy

Our JCC experienced a beautiful surprise this week, courtesy of Amy Magoun. Amy, a research coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh, is a regular volunteer with “Scent with Love,” an organization that retrieves fresh flowers from weddings and events or that remained unsold, and donates them to Pittsburgh places in need.

“I think that there’s so much waste of flowers,” Amy says. Rather than wasting these gorgeous florals, Scent with Love through its volunteers like Amyh helps to spread their beauty and cheer!

Amy makes a delivery about once a week. This week, she picked up a beautiful haul from Trader Joe’s and brought them to the Squirrel Hill JCC to give to seniors picking up their Meals to Go. Amy learned about the program from a very active Meals to Go volunteer, her friend Trish Callaway.

“Everyone loves flowers,” Amy says, “and it makes everyone happy.”

Many thanks for bringing beauty and joy to us Amy!


6-15-21 – Many Thanks, Sally!

When Sally Levenson retired from the Pittsburgh public schools in January 2020 after 29 years as a speech language therapist, she was ready to work.

Levenson, whose four children went to the JCC’s Early Childhood Development Center, considers the JCC “where my roots are.” So when she had time to volunteer, she checked in with a friend, AgeWell at the JCC’s Amy Gold, who had told Levenson “any time you want to do something, talk to me,” Levenson recalls.

Levenson was well into a routine doing check-ins at the J Café, AgeWell at the JCC’s kosher lunch program, one or two times a week. She enjoyed being back at the JCC, seeing the young children during their school day and assisting seniors coming for lunch.

Then in March 2020, the pandemic shut everything down. Months passed and finally, Levenson was able to help again. This time, Gold reached out to her about working with the JCC’s Center for Loving Kindness UpStanders to support Covid vaccine efforts.

UpStanders are a group of volunteers who embody the CFLK precept – “redefining ‘neighbor’ from a geographic term to a moral concept” – in various projects throughout the community. When the Covid-19 vaccine started to become available earlier this year, the UPstanders supported a special focus on registering our neighbors who might have a harder time working through computer registration processes or who are in some way underserved.

Levenson joined that effort, making phone calls. “People were so happy to get a phone call about getting a vaccine,” she says. “It was a worthwhile experience.” She also helped at two Covid vaccine clinics.

“I’m appreciative that I had time to do it,” she says. And as more and more programs and services open up, Levenson hopes to continue volunteering. “Now I’m looking forward to being able to help others again,” she says.


5-24-21 – Many thanks, Joe!

Joseph Brosky has found that in his work helping others, he’s also helping himself.

After Brosky retired to rural Laurel Hill Mountain after a 45-year career in law enforcement, banking and steel, he missed the socialization and community of his hometown of Pittsburgh. “In retirement, adjusting was hard,” he recalls. He was just getting back into his groove – coming into the city to see his grandchildren, meeting monthly with his North Catholic High School classmates, and visiting the local museums  – when Covid 19 struck and “all the fun things came to a screeching halt.”

Fortunately, he had also joined the Virtual Senior Academy, a free program to connect adults age 50 or older through interactive courses online, created by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and now run by AgeWell at the JCC.

“VSA is amazing,” Joe says. “I love it. It’s just a great way for folks trapped indoors due to Covid or mobility issues to connect.”

Joe became an active participant with the bi-monthly “Coffee Connect” group on VSA. “I met a lot of interesting people,” he says. When Covid 19 curbed everyone’s in-person socializing, programs like Coffee Connect became even more important, and Joe learned that his fellow participants were missing the connections on off weeks of Coffee Connect. So Joe started “Cupa Joe with Joe,” which meets on alternate weeks to Coffee Connect.

As host of Cupa Joe, Brosky came up with his own plan to facilitate conversation. He and his wife Donna are avid hikers, and Joe develops themes based on their experiences on the trail. Several meetings were discussions prompted by the Broskys’ 40th anniversary trip – a 108 mile hike on the Trans Mount Blanc trail in France, a trip that concluded in Paris. For each Cupa Joe, which has anywhere from nine to 12 participants, Joe develops questions and talking points, and shows photos and maps, and the discussion takes off.

One discussion was based on a day of that hike when the Broskys crossed into Switzerland and fortifications along the Swiss Border were used during WWII and through the ‘Cold War’ that had been disguised as chalets and rock formations; Joe related that to the Nike air defense missile sites that were placed in the Pittsburgh area during the Cold War.

One participant, a Polish immigrant who lives in Wisconsin, was sad to miss one Cupa Joe meeting, telling the group, “I’m going to miss this because you take us places we’re never going to see.”

“We all became friends,” Joe says. “It’s so important, just to see people smile and laugh and carry on.”

VSA reminds him of what it was like when as a child, he visited his aunt and uncle in Leechburg, Armstrong County, and the neighbors talked back and forth from their porches.

“If anything, with Covid, VSA has given us an opportunity to bring us back to the front porch. It’s wonderful.”

To learn more about VSA, click HERE

 

 

 

 


5-5-21 – Many thanks, Georgette

After retiring from a long career in academic administration, Georgette Demes wanted to renew her Russian-speaking skills.

Demes, who earned her PhD in Russian from the University of Pittsburgh, was in administration for many years at Carnegie-Mellon University, then was a part of an MIT team building a research facility in Moscow, and she was Director of International Operations for Georgia Tech. Over the years, her research and work took her to Russia for numerous visits, enabling her to witness many changes as the Soviet Union dissolved (in 1991) and Russia evolved as a nation.

She and her husband moved back to Pittsburgh, settling in Shadyside in 2016; “Pittsburgh has always been my most comfortable place to live,” she explains.

When she began looking for volunteer opportunities, she remembered from her graduate school years “how strong the JCC was in Pittsburgh.” She recalls “staging Russian Plays in Pitt’s Frick building,” and inviting the Russian community to attend. “I learned about what the JCC and the Jewish Federation were, and what they did for the community,” she says.

Shortly before the pandemic began in 2020, Georgette sought out Amy Gold, coordinator of AgeWell at the JCC’s CheckMates program, in which volunteers make weekly friendly phone calls to older adults. Demes was assigned to make calls to six seniors, including several Russian-speaking immigrants.

In the past year, during which the isolation of some seniors was only made worse by the pandemic, Demes has spoken with each person once or twice a week, chatting and providing emotional and informational support and referring questions or additional needs to Gold.

This past year, “We’ve gotten to know each other quite well,” she says. “I do provide as much support as I can.” One person was facing a language barrier in connecting with a doctor; Demes spoke with the doctor’s office to help. Another person talks to her for an hour each time. “He’s so lonely,” she says. “He just wants to talk to someone.” One client is deaf and they talk through a special video communication service. Some of her clients live alone and have few interactions with others. “They look forward to the call,” she says. “I feel like we’ve come through the pandemic together.”

Interestingly, Demes believes that the pandemic has been less traumatic to the Russian immigrants than to those who grew up in the U.S. “The Russians are used to living under extreme conditions,” she says – they lived through World War II, which was in their own backyard, and the famine and severe deprivations that followed. They lived in a controlling communist system, without the freedoms of Western democracy. “In general, Russians are much more used to being told what to do and the consequences of not following the rules are much more severe,” Demes says.“So, when the (U.S.) government says we’re closing down, they follow the rules.”

Demes notes that many of the people she telephones are not Jewish. “I call a very diverse group of people.” She applauds the JCC’s work: “The JCC is truly interested in helping these people,” she says. “The JCC is here for the broaded community.”

Demes herself feels supported in her work – the support provided by Amy Gold and the CheckMates program is “very professional, and consistent.”

Her work fulfills many things that she was looking for. “For me, it’s reconnecting with the Pittsburgh community, reconnecting with Russians here in Pittsburgh and strengthening my Russian.” And, she adds, “It’s a social outlet.”


4-23-21 – Many thanks to our Center for Loving Kindness UPstanders

Many thanks to our Center for Loving Kindness UPstanders, who in recent weeks have devoted themselves to supporting Covid-19 vaccination efforts in our region.

UPstander Lynn Zelenski at a recent vaccine clinic

The JCC’s Center for Loving Kindness began its UPstanders program 15 month​s ago to provide a structure for volunteers to embody the CFLK precept – “redefining ‘neighbor’ from a geographic term to a moral concept” – in various projects throughout the community. UPstanders have packed meals, planted trees and revived gardens; they’ve collected household items for families in need and supported initiatives around the Census and the Vote.

When the Covid-19 vaccine started to become available, the UPstanders were there to help, supporting a special focus on registering our neighbors who might have a harder time working through computer registration processes or who are in some way underserved.

“Over the course of the past months, our team of over 70 UPstanders have called over 2,000 neighbors to help them register for vaccinations,” said Rabbi Ron Symons, who founded and leads the CFLK. “We have helped at in-person clinics that have vaccinated over 5,000 people.”

Maria Cohen

“You feel like you’re doing something that really matters and helps the community,” said UPstander Maria Cohen, who is Executive Director of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition. Cohen made phone calls to reach people who needed to be vaccinated and served as an in-person escort at vaccine clinics in Wilkinsburg and at the JCC. “Sometimes people are afraid,” she said. “When you reassure people, it helps.”

Melissa Dodge, a retired French and English high school teacher who has been volunteering as an UPstander for a couple of months, has done a range of things from making phone calls to making appointments and doing registration at the vaccine clinics. She sees the “spirit” of the UPstanders team efforts “as making people feel welcome and valued. A lot of people are anxious and scared,” she said.

Melissa Dodge

“The main thing we do is to listen and be there for them.” UPstanders are there to congratulate people after they’ve received their vaccinations. “Many have a sense of relief and joy – ‘Oh, I am finally going to see or hug my grandchild,’” Dodge said. “I appreciate being a part of JCC volunteers. Ron’s commitment to helping all people in our community is commendable.”

“The work is so important; I am humbled and proud to be a part of it,” Cohen said. “What we’re doing is so meaningful to the community. It can change the landscape.”

For Symons, the UPstanders’ support for the vaccine initiatives are exactly what can help unite our community. “When we speak of redefining ‘neighbor’ from a geographic term to a moral concept, we envision opportunities like this. All of us — those getting vaccinated, those providing the vaccination, those serving as UPstanders — All of us are neighbors strengthening the fabric of community, one vaccination at a time,” he said.

Interested in joining the project UPstanders team? Please contact Rabbi Ron Symons at [email protected].

The JCC’s  Center for Loving Kindness was established in 2016 with the goal of redefining the word *neighbor* from a geographic term to a moral concept.  Staff and volunteers work to build bridges among diverse communities by encouraging and teaching people to transform from a “bystander” to an “upstander.” For more information, visit:


4-9-21 – Many thanks to our partner, Squirrel Hill Health Center!

The JCC is proud to partner with SHHC in Covid testing and vaccinations.
PLEASE NOTE: For Covid 19 vaccine appointments, SHHC does not take phone calls. Vaccine info and updates will be posted on SHHC’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SquirrelHillHealthCenter/

It’s been quite a year for the Squirrel Hill Health Center.

A Covid-19 vaccine is administered at a recent vaccine clinic at the JCC in Squirrel Hill.

SHHC, a Federally Qualified Health Center, has been on the front lines of the Covid 19 pandemic – providing testing and vaccines, emerging as one of the region’s leading public health warriors on this terrible virus. “I’m really proud of the role we’re playing in helping make the community safer,” says Susan Friedberg Kalson, CEO of SHHC, which is one of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s key community partners.

SHHC was established in 2006 with the mission to provide the highest quality care to everyone in our community, regardless of their income level or insurance status. Created in part to care for Pittsburgh’s immigrant and refugee population, which include Nepali speakers from Bhutan and Spanish speaking refugees and immigrants, SHHC now provides services to about 8,000 of individuals in 32,000 face-to-face clinical encounters each year.

“Our obligation is to reach underserved communities and also to be open to the general public,” Kalson says. “We serve everyone seeking the best care available with a special concern for their religious beliefs, ethnic and cultural background, language spoken, age, sex, gender identification, and disability status.”

SHHC has two sites – in Squirrel Hill and Brentwood – and operates a Mobile Medical Unit that can bring primary services to isolated communities as well as high traffic locations. It has administrative offices in the JCC Squirrel Hill.

When the pandemic struck our region in March 2020, SHHC was not using telehealth technology for virtual visits. “The first weekend after everything shut down, we figured out how to do it,” enabling SHHC to continue “seeing” patients, Kalson says.

In late May 2020, when Covid tests became more available, SHHC worked with the Allegheny County Health Department to provide testing at no cost to individuals all over the county, using the Mobile Unit and, when the weather turned cold, at indoor locations including both JCCs and the Jewish Association on Aging.

Then, when vaccines began to be released, SHHC, following state guidelines and eligibility requirements, looked for “big, safe spaces where we could do this,” Kalson says. “The JCC offered the use of their gyms, which are just ideal for us.” SHHC received its first vaccine allotment on December 23. Currently, SHHC is giving vaccines by appointment three times a week at the JCCs in Squirrel Hill and South Hills and at a community center in Millvale.

“The JCC has been incredibly helpful,” she says; “it is a great partner.”

Brian Schreiber, President & CEO of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh, echoed similar sentiments.  “We have enjoyed a strong partnership with the Squirrel Hill Health Center over the years and are especially proud to be working hand in hand during these past months on both Covid testing and vaccinations.   We share a common commitment to community and supporting underserved populations.”

Kalson says the rollout has been chaotic but “I am expecting it to get easier and easier in April.” As vaccines become increasingly available and Pennsylvania broadens eligibility requirements, SHHC is making plans to ramp up, including hiring more staff. When staffing allows, vaccines will be given five days a week – two days each at the JCCs and once a week Millvale.

“The big push starts now,” Kalson says.

When she thinks back on the past year, Kalson says the Covid 19 pandemic “is the public health crisis of a lifetime.” For SHHC, it’s been a year in which “everything has required incredibly complex choreography and logistics.” And for Kalson, “It’s been the most stressful and challenging year of my life. In the end,” she adds, “I think it will be the most important work any of us has done.”

 


Many thanks, Danny!

As a Lead Educator for Toddlers in the Squirrel Hill Early Childhood Development Center, Danny Trompeter enjoys observing the 2 and 3 year-olds’ developmental growth over the year. “At the beginning, they’re very young,” he says; at the end of the year, “They seem almost grown up.”

The children love books and building, he says, and they especially enjoy “exploring whatever is in front of them.” Danny’s class was really excited by a recent activity for color exploration, in which the kids observed paint being dripped into water. One of his favorite things is to look around the classroom, where projects and artwork are displayed, “to see how the kids have grown through their art.”

The children’s language also develops substantially throughout the year. “Every aspect of language changes a lot,” he says. He notes that language development is greatly affected by socialization, which enables the children to develop their ability “to work out how to express their feelings with one another.” Returning to the classroom when ECDC re-started in June was key; “Socialization is so important,” Danny says.

For everyone, with the limited socialization that safety protocols require, Danny, too, appreciates being back in the classroom. “It’s great to have the interactions with the kids and my co-workers,” he says. “I like to learn what the other classes are doing; what works; their perspectives.”

A Squirrel Hill native, Danny grew up at the JCC, spending many years at Emma Kaufmann Camp first as a camper, then a counselor and then, Unit Head.

Danny, whose undergraduate degree is in Early Childhood Education with Special Education, is working towards a Masters Degree in Applied Behavioral Analysis for Education at Duquesne University. Through his studies, he is gaining a “better understanding of kids’ behavior,” he says.

We thank Danny for his warmth, thoughtfulness and care of his young students!


Many thanks, Chef Trent!

What do people like to eat for lunch? As Aladdin Executive Chef at the JCC, Chef Trent Seeberger should know!

Judging by popularity, Chef Trent would say that older adults prefer stuffed cabbage, stuffed peppers and “tilapia or any fish.” When it comes to feeding young children in the Early Childhood Development Center, “We just try to provide them with food that they will eat,” he says. After years of experience, he thinks he’s found the formula — chicken nuggets, pizza, sloppy joes.

Chef Trent has been at the JCC for 2 ½ years, supervising preparation of breakfast, lunch and two snacks each day for 150 ECDC children, as well as the Delivery and Meals To Go program for older adults. A year ago, when the pandemic struck, the J Café on-site kosher senior meals program had to be adapted to safely continue providing lunches to homebound and isolated older adults. The new programs – AgeWell at the JCC Meals to Go and Meals Delivered – now serve an average 220 older adults through twice weekly distributions that provide each participant with five lunches each week.

No surprise that the JCC’s kosher kitchen is nonstop busy in the early hours of the day; organized to get meals and snacks to the youngest JCC members while cooking and packaging salads, fruits, hot and cold entrees, bread and milk for the seniors’ lunches.

Chef Trent knows his business – he’s been it for 30 years, having been pulled into kitchen work at age 13. The pandemic has been “one of the hardest blows to food service,” he says, noting the epidemic of restaurant closings and job losses. The pandemic also has intensified Chef Trent’s own work, especially because senior meals now require additional steps to prepare, package and keep the meals fresh, which means  additional kitchen staff and a large contingent of volunteers to do the final packing and distribution. Chef Trent is complementary of his team. “My staff is doing a great job,” he says.

What’s his favorite thing about the job? “The sense of community is my favorite part,” he says. “I like the kids, seeing the seniors.” The pandemic has, of course, affected that too: “The biggest bummer is not being able to see how the seniors are doing,” he says.

We all look forward to the time when they can return to the JCC!


Many thanks, Alex!

When it comes to thanking front line workers, Alex Kraemer is front and center! A customer service representative, Alex regularly is stationed at the Squirrel Hill JCC’s main entrance, welcoming each person who comes into the Irene Kaufmann building.

His work has changed quite a bit since he started in January 2020. When the pandemic struck last March, the JCC had to suspend physical operations. Upon reopening in June, “it was definitely a change,” Alex says. On a personal level, after two months of isolation, Alex, who describes himself as a shy person, says it was a transition to see people again. Professionally, he had to learn a slate of reception procedures to ensure everyone’s safety – from checking that each visitor is masked and taking each person’s temperature, to asking health screening questions and completing check-ins so that everyone who’s in the building is accounted for. Alex also answers phone calls and questions on LiveChat and does some scheduling for aquatics.

His favorite part of the job: “Talking to different people every day,” he says. “I like having conversations with our members.”

Alex, who grew up in Monroeville and now lives in Fox Chapel, occasionally performs improv comedy. During the pandemic, he’s participated in a couple of virtual performances that he calls “Make ‘em ups.”

One thing he’s noted during the pandemic is how he’s only gotten to know some JCC members with their masks on, so when he  sees someone at the pool – the only place where people are allowed to take off their masks when in the JCC – “It takes a second to recognize them,” he says.


Many thanks, Tyrek!

In these unusual times, when the normal routines of school have been upended by the Covid-19 pandemic, Tyrek Dantzler tries to maintain some stability for the children he works with at the JCC South Hills and Squirrel Hill All Day at the J programs. “I like being there with the kids,” he says. “I like being able to make a difference during this time, when things are up in the air.”

This school year has been in flux for many children throughout the area, with schooling consisting of various mixes of online and in person instruction that might abruptly change as outbreaks of Covid-19 occur. Tyrek notes that children feel “the uncertainty of when they’re going back” to school.

Tyrek is mindful that the kids will need to adjust to the in-person school experience when that re-occurs, so at All Day at the J, “I try to make it like a school day,” he says. He wants to help kids get used to the structure of school, and to be ready to go back.

Tyrek, who recently graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, since 2016 has spent his summers as counselor and unit head for South Hills Day Camp.

As he considers going into education, he’s made an interesting observation – that this generation of school children is better prepared for remote schooling than he was. “We always joke about the worries about this generation being consumed with devices,” he says. “Now, it’s good that they’re so savvy with their electronics.” He noted one of the children he works with,  a kindergartner , who knows how to check her Wi-Fi. “It’s good that she’s prepared for this,” he says.


Many thanks, Rabbi Seidman!

Rabbi Eli Seidman brings the party with him when he volunteers at the JCC to help pack meals for AgeWell at the JCC’s Meals To Go and Meals Delivered program.

When he walks into Levinson Hall to help assemble two or three meals for more than 220 individuals, he sets up his phone playlist and the music starts – an eclectic mix of 70s and 80s pop favorites, jazz and even some folk music permeates the workspace, lightening the tedium of the work.  The Rabbi even has developed his own technique of flicking the paper bags open as he arranges them for packing.

“I like doing something that’s helpful,” he says.

Rabbi Seidman, who retired in October after 25 years as Director of Pastoral Care for the Jewish Association on Aging, had envisioned his retirement a little differently – travel, taking some courses. But  with the pandemic changing even the best of plans, he sought out ways he could volunteer to help.

He’s pleased to be volunteering at the JCC, where he knows the community overall and even knows some of the individuals who are receiving the meals he packs. “It’s nice to be able to do something for my own community,” he says. And for the broader community as well, he’s also been volunteering to help with food distribution for the East End Cooperative Ministry. And of course, he’s sharing his music!


Many thanks, Emmanuelle!

The pandemic may have changed our daily lives in innumerable ways, but Emmanuelle Wambach has observed that at least one group of us is adapting well – young children.

As a Lead Educator in a Squirrel Hill Early Childhood Development Center preschool class, Emmanuelle well knows how things have changed in the past year – classes are smaller, everyone has to social distance, classes don’t interact with other classes, activities are more limited, and communications with parents have to be entirely virtual, to name just a few of the ways ECDC has changed to create a safe environment.

“I have a really amazing group of kids,” she says. “The kids are really resilient.” While they have to wear a mask, “they’re doing well with it.” When their mask has slipped down, “we say ‘nose’ and they pull it back up.”

Emmanuelle has also noted that concerns about children not being able to read social and emotional cues through masks have not borne out. “When we’re wearing masks, the kids understand us – our feelings – completely,” she says. “Even though they can’t see our mouths, they see our eyes and hear our tone of voice.”

Another concern was that children would become too attached to the virtual platforms that have become vital education tools during the pandemic. Emmanuelle has found ways to teach “so that virtual becomes part of what you do and not all of how you do it.” Think tactile experiences – real books and lots of hands-on projects. As an artist and ceramicist, Emmanuelle especially loves to do art projects with the children; “anything where they can get messy is great,” she says.

Teachers have to deal with a lot of difficult questions, she says. To help explain Covid, the class read the book “The Incredible Docs Vs. Billy the Bad Virus” and now the children use this as a reference point for discussion and understanding.

Emmanuelle also is in a group of ECDC teachers who have been exploring how to talk to young children about anti-racism. “Biases can develop early,” she says. “Kids will point out differences all the time. It is harder for adults. We’ve been taught not to point out differences; it’s so important to learn how to talk about it.” Classroom discussion centers around “how our differences make us unique,” she says, and they read books that include people with disabilities, different skin colors or different religious rituals.

While Emmanuelle looks forward to a time when the classes can again intermingle and other restrictions are loosened, she thinks the children have adapted to the way things are now. “I think the kids are doing well with it,” she says.


Many thanks, Robert!

For Robert Lino, the best part of working on AgeWell at the JCC’s Meals Delivered van is an extension of what he liked about his job pre-pandemic. Robert, who has been concierge for the 10.27 Healing Partnership for a year, enjoyed welcoming people into the center. With the onset of the pandemic, 10.27 visitors have been unable to gather at the offices in the Squirrel Hill JCC. But since last spring, as Robert has been delivering meals to homes and apartment complexes one or two times a week, he has again found himself in a welcoming role. “I like meeting people and connecting with them,” he says. “After a while, you get used to each other and become part of the conversation.”

Robert, who immigrated to the U.S. from South Sudan about 15 years ago, grew up in the Erie area. His work at 10.27 now includes doing the social media and website management for the organization, which fosters a sense of community well-being by providing opportunities for reflection, support and connection for individuals and their loved ones impacted by the October 2018 attack and others who experience hate-induced trauma.

Connecting is the common theme pre-pandemic and now. While there’s a lot of walking and lifting involved in making deliveries from the van’s many stops, Robert has been glad to make that human connection with seniors. “Each time you knock at their door, they wait for us, he says. “That’s the best part – getting to see people who don’t have an opportunity to get out of their home.”


Many thanks, Jack!

Like so many of us, Jack Mizerski can’t wait for things to return to some form of normal.

His normal for the three years or so leading up to the pandemic shutdowns in March was as driver for the Elder Express van service, a regularly scheduled van service in Squirrel Hill for seniors to assist them in getting out for day-to-day activities and to remain active in the community. “I got to know a lot of people,” he says. “I can’t wait for Elder Express to come back. I miss my ladies.”

Laid off when Elder Express services were suspended in March, Jack was called back into service when AgeWell at the JCC started Meals Delivered, which currently is delivering lunches to an average of more than 90 individuals on Mondays and Wednesdays in the 15217 area.

“I call my bus ‘The Happy Bus’,” he says. “I enjoy doing it.”

Routing is different than Elder Express, which had set stops on a loop. Now Jack is following a route of many stops at individuals’ homes as well as apartment complexes; the route is mapped out on an App in the most efficient path that sends the van all around Squirrel Hill.

Also different from pre-Covid is the level of contact with recipients – Jack sees few of them as recipients isolate in their homes to keep safe from the Covid virus. He still stays in touch with many of his Elder Express clients, he says; “They call me all the time.”

Jack, who retired after 31 years with AT&T and 5 years in banking, has been driving for social service agencies for more than 10 years. For him, the job is all about customer service. “You gotta find some joy, no matter what you do.”


Many thanks, Danielle!

Danielle (upper left) blows a Shofar with families

The pandemic has engendered feelings of isolation for so many of us. For Danielle West, whose job is aimed at connecting families to each other and to Judaism, the pandemic has meant thinking outside the box to find new ways to make those connections.

Danielle, who has been PJ Library Coordinator for Pittsburgh for almost 4 years, typically organized in person programs for large groups of families, such as a visit to the zoo where they’d talk about Noah’s Ark, or a story time at the JCC. But when the pandemic struck, “We knew that virtual programming would have to be the foundation,” she says.

So she developed Home to Home Celebrations of Jewish Life, drawing on what’s become common knowledge – that “Parents are tapped out from having to handle so much right now,” she says.  “We wanted to find a way to make doing Jewish at home easy and accessible, and for families to connect to each other.”

For each live, online Celebration, families pick up a Celebration Kit at the JCC. The materials include everything that’s needed for the event, “so parents don’t have to spend 20 minutes looking for crayons or markers,” Danielle says. “It’s all included.” The Welcome Celebration Kit, given to each family for the first event they register for, includes basic materials as well as suggestions for how to create a sacred space.

The families meet for a scheduled Zoom Celebration and together, they learn, talk and do activities. “The idea of doing it all at the same time with the same materials takes away the barrier of the screens so they can connect,” Danielle says. “When you look up and see that everyone has their Havdalah candle lit at the same time, it’s very connective.”

Even the brief connection that occurs when families pick up their Celebration Kit has had an unexpected positive impact. “It’s very powerful time to connect with families,” Danielle says. “They check in, say hi; it’s a touchpoint; a little place to unload…”

To date, there have been seven Celebrations including one for each of the High Holidays and for Shabbat. Some 75 families have participated in the program and as many as 45 families participated in a single event.

“This is a job that allows me to be creative and think outside of the box,” Danielle says. “It really brings me lots of joy to be able to do it. It’s a lot of hard work but really rewarding to see families do these things in their homes during these isolating times.”

For more information on PJ Library Home to Home celebrations, click HERE


Many thanks, Trish!

One silver lining from the pandemic is that Trish Callaway returned to the JCC. Back in the 1990s, Trish, shortly after moving with her family to Pittsburgh from her native Atlanta, taught in the JCC’s Early Childhood Development Center. More recently, the preschool educator was teaching in Shadyside Presbyterian’s program, but the school was closed because of the Covid pandemic. Trish, who says she is very motivated “to give back in some way,” in September found that at the JCC. She has been volunteering one or two times a week for several hours at a stretch to help pack meals for AgeWell at the JCC’s Meals to Go and Meals Delivered programs.  “I was so grateful that they opened this up to volunteer,” she says. “I like to have a purpose.”

The program, which each week requires the preparation and packing of 5 meals for each of more than 200 individuals, is very well organized. “They set it up safely and I feel comfortable,” she says. She also is very mindful of the importance of the meals program. “I’m thinking about each bag going out to someone,” she says. “Every one of those bags is going to someone isolated and lonely. I hope I don’t miss giving them their apple.”

She’s glad to be back at the JCC too.  “It’s fun to be back home,” she says. The meals program is “such a great service. I’m glad to be part of it.”


Many thanks, Jim!

Jim Greenwalt has that special attitude that has helped the JCC through times both good and difficult. “I like to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” he says. He’s been in JCC Security for nine years, but his job is a lot more varied than his title. A year ago, Jim, who lives just eight houses from the JCC’s 100 acre Family Park in Monroeville, assumed caretaking duties at the park. Last spring, he worked hard cleaning, power washing and preparing the facilities and site for J&R Day Campers. But the work doesn’t end when camp is over! Every day rain, shine or snow, Jim stops in and does pool maintenance and checks that the heat is working in the year-round buildings. To date, he’s cut down 40 trees to clear the trails and last summer, he took care of J&R Day Camp’s four chickens. All the while, he has continued to work in Security at the JCCs in Squirrel Hill and South Hills. “I like the diversity of things that I get to do, and how everybody’s open to doing whatever is needed.” he says. For all he does, he credits the teamwork of the entire Security staff. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without the Security Team — Brian, Larry, Mike , Anthony, Ray and Chad,” he says.


Many thanks, Shirley!

What’s for lunch? As Aladdin’s Head Cook and Kitchen Manager at the JCC in Squirrel Hill, Shirley Tyler knows intimately everything that’s on the menu for senior meals programs. Shirley, who’s been at the JCC for six years, had been preparing 100 to 120 meals daily for J Café. Since mid-March 2020, when the Covid 19 pandemic came to Pittsburgh, the on site J Café program has been converted to AgeWell at the JCC’s Meals to Go and Meals Delivered programs. “It’s changed a lot and is more work,” says Tyler, “It’s the same menu but we make more each time.” Now, Tyler oversees preparation of five meals per week for as many as 210 individuals, and the distribution of the meals does not occur every day; rather, meals distribution has been consolidated to twice a week: On Mondays, 2 meals for up to 210 individuals are prepared, packed and distributed; on Wednesdays, it’s 3 meals for up to 210. That’s a more than 1,000 meals a week!

Tyler also occasionally prepares meals for the Early Childhood Development Center and All Day at the J children. She’s in the JCC kitchen every day, making sure that everyone gets tasty meals. “I like to cook,” she says. “I like it when people enjoy my food.” And even with all that cooking professionally, she still likes to cook at home, where, she says, “Steak is my favorite meal.”


Many thanks, Alan!

Alan Mallinger, a long-time JCC staff member, was just named one of Eight Bright Lights From the JCC Field by the JCC Association of North America. It’s certainly easy to see why they called him “the consummate utility player” at the JCC. He begins his mornings as one of six health screeners, monitoring for COVID related symptoms among preschoolers and school-age children in the JCC’s childcare programs. Then it’s on to help with the senior meal distribution program that replaced an older adult congregate meal program when the pandemic hit, and Alan was reassigned from the fitness department during the mandated closure. “He has continued in this role for nearly nine months,” says Brian Schreiber, executive director of the JCC. “There is not a task assigned that Alan does not tackle, with a smile behind his mask and gratitude in his heart.”


Many thanks, Mandy!

There’s no question that teaching young children during the Covid 19 pandemic is different than during “normal” times way back when. Mandy Cord, Older Toddler co-lead educator in the South Hills Early Childhood Development Center, can attest to that: “There’s a lot of handwashing and cleaning and making sure masks stay on,” she says. She misses “the face to face communication that we would normally have with the parents,” the weekly all-school Shabbat celebrations, and Dr. Seuss Week/Read Across America – a special week of events that the teachers hope to reconfigure to celebrate during these unusual circumstances.

But there’s always a silver lining, and Cord sees this clearly. She finds the support of parents “amazing” and says, “I am blown away by the resilience of the children. The ability that they have to adapt and push forward is amazing. Things would go a lot smoother in the world if we all took our cues from them.”

Covid or normal times, she says, “One of the best things about my job is knowing that I may have an impact on the children that I teach, and the impact that they have on me.” She is glad that “We are helping keep some normalcy in their lives during this ever so stressful and changing pandemic.”

She adds, “I couldn’t do any of this without the support and talent of my colleagues. … I am truly thankful for that.”

And we are thankful for you!


Many thanks, Shawnee!

The 3-month disruption in JCC operations during the peak of the Covid 19 pandemic didn’t change the job too much for Shawnee Chunia Miyares, who has been a Servicemaster Housekeeper at the JCC for 4 years. “We never really left,” she says. What does she like about her job? “I like the people” at the JCC, she says. “They’re really friendly here.”

 

 


Many thanks, Rob!

Rob Smith may enjoy preparing the food as much as the children and staff of the JCC’s South Hills Early Childhood Development Center enjoy eating it. We talked to Smith, who is Aladdin’s Kitchen Supervisor in the South Hills, as he was finishing cleanup after providing a special Thanksgiving lunch of roast turkey, corn and mashed potatoes. “That’s the kids’ favorite meal,” he said, theorizing that the kids like it so much because roast turkey is on the menu once a month.  He’s preparing breakfast, lunch and snacks daily for a slightly smaller number of children and staff because ECDC capacity has been modified to meet safety protocols during the Covid-19 Pandemic. But as the only person in the kitchen, “It’s a lot of work,” he said. “I’m happy to do it.” What’s his favorite part of the job? Easy: “Preparing the food and making the kids happy, and seeing their smiling faces.” He added, “They thank me every day. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

We thank you too!


Many thanks, Paul!

Weekdays, you might find Paul Hilterbrick managing the comings and goings of 90+ vehicles on Darlington Road during drop off or dismissal of children from the Early Childhood Development Center and All Day at the J. Or he might be handing out bags of prepared food during drive-through pickups of AgeWell at the JCC’s Meals to Go senior lunch program. On a recent evening, he was seen leaf blowing on the JCC grounds and he recently power washed the Pop In fitness area in the Forbes Avenue garage. Last June, he cut down a tree at the JCC’s Family Park in Monroeville to help prepare the site for J&R day camp. Known as a “doer,” Hilterbrick says that yes, “I do a lot of multi-tasking.”

In his five years as the JCC’s Director of Safety and Security, Hilterbrick has had plenty to do. In his continuing focus on preparedness, he has held frequent staff trainings and built relationships and communications with representatives from local police, Homeland Security and the FBI. “My priority is to protect the children and the seniors — those who need the most assistance – and everyone who is in the building,” he says.

And then there’s what actually happens in our world–such as a guest in the JCC needing first aid and emergency services. He supported staff and a community who were shocked, frightened and saddened by the tragic shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue two years ago, and now, he is doing his part to help manage with the unprecedented set of issues brought about during the Covid 19 pandemic.

“I think the Covid crisis has brought us – our staff – together,” he says. “We’ve chipped in to help with whatever skills we had.”

Hilterbrick, who grew up just outside Gettysburg, has had a long career in security services. He came to the JCC from BNY Mellon, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and the Alyeska Pipelane in Alaska. Prior to that, his 22 years in U.S. Air Force Security Police included in-flight protection for Air Force One with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and other dignitaries.

What does he like about working at the JCC? “I love the diversity and ever-changing environment,” he says. “And the teamwork, and the family atmosphere.”

Now he’s got to get back to directing traffic on Darlington Road.


Many thanks, Michelle!

In a way, Michelle Hunter’s job hasn’t changed much in the 2+ years she’s been Program Coordinator with AgeWell at the JCC.

Michelle, an LSW, completed nutrition and wellness assessments for seniors and provided information and referral for county reports, among many other duties. “I’m an organizer at heart and strive to make processes as efficient as possible,” she says.

With on site programming for seniors suspended since March 14 due to the pandemic, Michelle has been applying her organizational talents to coordinating the AgeWell Delivers meal delivery program and leading meal packing efforts twice weekly with JCC staff and volunteers. The Meals to Go and AgeWell Delivers programs provide five meals to almost 200 individuals each week.

“A lot of our seniors miss the social interactions of dining in the J Cafe, and I know I miss seeing their faces here,” Michelle says.  “We’ve been able to adapt and provide a much needed service to our community.  There are occasions when I’m on the delivery runs and the joy and appreciation warms my heart.” She adds, “Special thanks to the JCC and Aladdin kitchen staff, community volunteers, Security, Access/PRN transportation teams, Maintenance, and all those who have dedicated time to this new normal.”

And a special thanks to Michelle!


Many thanks, Ralph!

Ralph Golthy’s job takes him all around the JCC, even to spots most of us never see. As Servicemaster Site Supervisor, he’s been assigned to the JCC for 12 years, where he oversees cleaning and facilities maintenance. The job is challenging, he says. “You’re always on your feet.” Since the JCC reopened with modified safe cleaning protocols, he’s using more disinfectant, among other adaptations to the changes, he says, “but we make it work.” He’s glad to see the facilities put to use. “I like seeing all the kids and members, smiling and happy and having a good time exercising and using the pools.”


Many thanks, Peg!

It’s no surprise that after seven years as Customer Service Representative at the JCC South Hills, Peg Koishal is well known by the membership. Peg, who previously spent 35 years in customer service with JC Penney’s, knows what’s important: “You have to have a good rapport,” she says, adding that she’s on a first name basis with many members. Since the JCC’s modified reopening, she has a new greeting: “I’m glad to see you’re back,” she often says as members return. Peg also makes phone calls to isolated seniors for AgeWell at the JCC, checking to see if they are getting exercise and “letting them know we’re open and what we do have to offer,” as well as encouraging them to take virtual SilverSneakers classes.


Many thanks, Faith!

Though they were already hard at work making bagels and pastries for Pigeon Bagels, when Faith Hayes heard the AgeWell at the JCC Meals to Go program needed volunteers, they jumped at the opportunity. Since July, Faith has been volunteering weekly to help package meals for distribution to seniors in the community. “I value the unique lunch program that the JCC provides and I enjoy helping in a direct way,” they say, “I’ve appreciated being able to build positive action into my week.” After more than three months, Faith will be taking a break from volunteering to focus on their work at Pigeon Bagels, but they say the memories will stay with them. “My favorite memories would have to be when the kitchen manager Aderet brings in her baked goods for all of us. Everyone is so warm and friendly there, the atmosphere is just really nice to walk into.”


Many thanks, Andrew!

“We have a great community at the JCC, says Andrew Normolle, Customer Service Representative, who notes that he will have been at the JCC for four years as of this week. But the conditions, and thus, his job, certainly changed when the JCC reopened in a modified way in June. Now, his greeting of members at the Squirrel Hill Centerfit entrance includes asking each person health screening questions and taking their temperature. He also helps people sign up for programs and for lap swim times, and takes phone queries. The work “is challenging,” he says, “but it is a challenge worthy of facing with enthusiasm.” And there’s satisfaction for a job well done. He’s glad that he “can help provide the ability for people to be together in a safe way, to help operate such a central part of the community.”


Many thanks, Brian!

Brian McElwain, JCC Security Coordinating Officer, took on a new, vital role during the Covid19 pandemic – helping deliver meals to seniors. Twice a week since May, Brian with a volunteer loads bags of hot and cold meals for as many as 65 participants into thermal chests and fits the chests onto the Elder Express bus. As the bus makes about 45 stops all around Squirrel Hill, Brian drops off meals at the doors of private homes and apartment buildings. Brian, who has been full time at the JCC for 10 years, knows many of the participants from pre-Covid 19 days, when they would come to the JCC’s J Cafe for hot kosher lunches. Since the lunch program has been moved to pick-ups and deliveries, Brian enjoys seeing the participants. “I see a lot of old friends,” he says. “The check-ins that are built into the whole delivery process – it’s reassuring for them to see us, and for us to see them. It’s nice to be a part of it.”

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