Jewish Family Service: Expanding to Meet the Needs of the Community’s Seniors

Home » Projects » Editorials » Jewish Family Service: Expanding to Meet the Needs of the Community’s Seniors
This article was originally published in The Jewish Observer.
March 1, 2021
by Barbara Dab
As many in the Nashville Jewish community begin to venture outside their homes, albeit cautiously, for the senior population, it is a different story. This vulnerable group continues to stick close to home and the experience can be isolating and, at times, even dangerous. Recognizing the need to keep a closer watch on these folks, Jewish Family Service gradually expanded their outreach. Anna Sir, JFS Helping Hands Project Coordinator, mobilized volunteers to make calls, send letters and even to recognize when there is a greater need for assistance and referral to social workers. “This is a new, ongoing way of life for everyone,” she says, “We approach both the short-term and long-term need, which could look different down the road.” And according to Pam Kelner, Executive Director of JFS, “one of the most important aspects of the expanded services is the ability to be a first point of contact for seniors and to assess the need for a referral to a social worker.”

Since the, “Safer-at-Home,” order began, Sir reports that close to 60 people have been reached, to date, by over two dozen volunteers. Most of the volunteers are making regular phone calls to check in, chat and let folks know they are not alone. Susan Zager, Vice-president of the Board of JFS, has been volunteering for a long time and says she has built some amazing relationships. “There’s nothing I like better,” she says, “I say I want to help them but when I get off the phone, I realize I learn so much. And everyone is so appreciative.” Susan has bonded with folks over things like a shared love of film and needlepoint. And in one instance, she even helped someone locate a lost cell phone.

For Renee Kasman, making regular calls to seniors has helped her make new connections during a very isolating time. “I have enjoyed sharing stories about our Seders, swapping recipes, hearing about their good news and families,” she says. She even assisted someone with finding technical support with a computer. Kasman is looking forward to meeting folks in person sometime in the future and says the interactions have been very positive for everyone involved. She says, “I think it’s a great program. Doctors say that making human connections are good for our health, so I like to think these calls were beneficial to all of us…myself included.”

One of the highlights of the volunteer efforts has been a pen pal program between seniors and local school children. Anna Sir says it has been a great opportunity for the students to learn about formal letter writing. And, for seniors who are not as comfortable with email, it has been a welcome connection, as well. Laura Shmerling, whose son Sam, 6, is a first grader at Akiva School. He has been corresponding with Vera Balter. Laura says, “It has been a great opportunity to connect with a senior in the community. It does the heart and mind good for us all to feel connected to others and uplifting to give and receive letters in the mail. We hope to visit our pen pal in person when this is over.” Sam has even sent drawings to accompany his letters and Shmerling reports he is very excited about those.

Anna Sir says in addition to the volunteer phone calls and pen pals, JFS is experimenting with Zoom hangout sessions and has conducted some focus groups to gauge interest in another method of virtual connection. And just before Passover, thanks to donors David and Lynn Barton, seniors were able to receive Seder boxes. Pam Kelner says expanding programs for the seniors in the community has been an ongoing priority. “The seniors are our elders, we value them, and it is important for us to make sure they are all doing okay during this difficult time,” she says.

All Services

Our comprehensive social services and programs are designed to enrich the whole person, enhance the whole family, and empower the whole community–no matter your age, race, religion, preference, identity, economic standing, or otherwise.

Explore All →

Counseling Services

Life can be challenging, relationships can be hard, and you may need the extra support that comes with working with a therapist. Our licensed social workers offer counseling for individuals, couples, and families, as well as for children and adolescents.

Individuals  |  Couples  |  Families   |  Children & Teens

Explore All →

Adoption Services

Choosing to adopt a child, or to place a child for adoption, is a life-altering decision. We are a licensed child-placing agency in Tennessee with more than 40 years of experience in adoption services in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

Birth Parents  |  Adoptive Parents  |  LGBTQ+ Adoptions

Explore All →

Food & Financial Support

Whether you need emergency financial assistance, such as help paying a utility bill or rent for the month, or material assistance by ensuring your children have gifts at the holidays, school supplies, or food supplements, Jewish Family Service offers this critical assistance in a confidential, compassionate manner.

Explore →

Older Adult Programs & Services

We recognize that older adults are true treasures, and we strive to create and maintain a community that values and celebrates them for their wisdom, contributions, and experiences. Our programs and services are an important outlet for our older adults, encouraging them to be social and stimulated.

Explore →

Family & Community Enrichment

Life can be challenging, and knowledge is power. The Jewish Family Service’s Family and Community Enrichment programs serve to empower, protect, and address the ever-changing needs of the entire Nashville community.

Explore →

Who We Are

Passionate providers of comprehensive social services, we are advocates, allies, educators, cheerleaders, and guides who create solutions to problems facing families and individuals of all ages.

More About Us →

jfs-nashville-about-us-thumbnail-2024Our Staff

We are a team of experienced professionals dedicated to treating each person with compassion, care and dignity.

Meet the Team →

jfs-nashville-board-of-directors-thumbnail-2024Board of Directors

A group of people with different backgrounds and perspectives who come together to help Jewish Family Service fulfill its mission and expand its reach.

Meet Our Leadership Team →

Our Impact

We serve the people of Nashville and Middle Tennessee in many different ways. Here are a few of the human stories where JFS programs have made a tangible difference in people’s daily lives.

Read Our Stories →

Items That Tell a Story

We’ve compiled a selection of items that we use frequently at JFS – in some cases every day.

 Check Out the Items →

Ways To Help

The number of ways in which you can help support individuals and families navigate life’s transitions are endless.

Explore All →


Volunteers are a vital part of how we support our clients. Find opportunities to assist those in our community who need a helping hand.

Get Involved →

Make a Donation

Since our founding in 1853, the generous support of our community has made the work of Jewish Family Service possible.

Donate Now →

JFS Central

Press coverage about JFS Nashville’s programing and services, learn about the history of the agency from our past newsletters, and enjoy reading original JFS content like our signature advice column, “Dear Esther.” Stay up to date with the impact we’re making throughout our community.

Explore →

Events & Gatherings

Check out the full calendar of upcoming JFS Nashville events. From community education, support groups, and special engagements alike, find out where you can show up and get connected.

See what’s Going On →

Information & Referral Resources

Connect with our community partners. Our information and referral directory includes local and national resources that can provide additional support for addiction, mental health, and more.

Explore All →

Mental Health Matters

Mental Health Matters is a JFS series that was designed to reduce the stigma of mental health issues by providing education, increasing awareness, and inclusivity. Check out our ongoing resources and past programming.

Check it Out →

Senior Services Directory

Need to know which pharmacies deliver? How to get a ride somewhere? Volunteer opportunities? The senior directory is the go-to resource for anything seniors might need related to the community.

Explore →

Contact Us

How can we help? Send us a message, give us a call, or find us on social media. We usually respond within 1-2 business days.

Get In touch →