Karen Allen: Coming Home
Being involved with CJFS, and especially working with seniors, has brought my adult life full circle. In 1982, I began working as senior adult coordinator for the organization then known as Jewish Family Services. It was a part-time, temporary position, but, for me, it launched a full-time Jewish professional career that included 22 years at the Birmingham Jewish Federation. Those were years of profound growth and meaning for me. Now, coming back to CJFS as a volunteer, working with seniors, professionals and other volunteers, is like coming back home.
In my three years as CJFS Board President, one of the most important collaborations that occurred between the board and professional staff was the honing of the agency’s focus. Our board felt it was important that this process begin with the professional staff, who knew firsthand where the greatest needs were. The strategic plan, developed by the staff and fine-tuned by the board, identified senior adults and their families as CJFS’s primary focus (although the agency continues to serve others in need.)
This clarity of focus enabled CJFS to confidently refine its branding and program emphasis. And this focus is reflected in the CARES program, which was launched in 2015. CARES, a respite day program for clients with dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, has surpassed all projections to date. Just this week it expanded its service days from two to four. CARES is especially close to my heart because my husband, Leslie, and I have volunteered there from the beginning. As a volunteer, I feel that in many ways, CARES is a “therapy group” for volunteers and clients alike. It’s a happy place to be. When I see people out in the community and I have volunteered with them at CARES, there’s a bond between us. I recently attended the funeral of one of our CARES clients, and both professionals and volunteers who had worked together to enrich the final months of this person’s life were also there. CARES clients are going through a transition that can be very difficult, so if we can in some way enhance their lives, it benefits us all. It certainly has benefitted me.