Jewish Family Service Recognized for Helping Same Sex Couples Build Families

Home » Projects » Editorials » Jewish Family Service Recognized for Helping Same Sex Couples Build Families

This article was originally published in The Jewish Observer and has been republished with permission.

June 30, 2020
by Barbara Dab

Jewish Family Service of Nashville and Middle Tennessee is being recognized by the Human Rights Campaign in its 2020 All Children All Families Report for its work in the field of same sex parent adoptions. The report is in its second year and recognizes organizations that implemented LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices, including non- discrimination, staff training and creating a welcoming environment. JFS, which achieved the, “Building Foundation for Inclusion,” tier, is the only agency in Tennessee to receive the designation. Alison Depercio, Director of All Children All Families of the Human Rights Campaign, says agencies like JFS not only provide service, but they go beyond by educating others about the need for support for same sex families. She says, “It is a huge message to the community at large that it is in the best interest of children to remove obstacles in creating permanent families.”

Four years ago, Brandon andOzzie Di Paolo Harrison began their process to expand their family. Both are professors at Austin Peay State University and learned about JFS from a colleague. They were referred to Toni Jacobsen, Clinical Director at JFS, who they say made them feel comfortable and welcome. “Working with Toni was so positive. She was kind, thorough and left nothing to chance.” says Brandon. The adoption process can take anywhere from one year to 18 months and includes a home study, post-placement visits and assistance with paperwork. Families must find another agency to help with placement of the child. Toni says, “As Jews, people know we have faced discrimination and antisemitism and understand what that is like. They know we will serve them with integrity.” Toni helped the couplenavigate some sticky beaurocratic processes to facilitate the adoption of their daughter, Isabella. In fact, it took six months for the birth mother to relinquish parental rights, something that usually takes days. Ozzie says it was a stressful time, but JFS was there to support them through it all, “It was so important to have Toni. It felt like she was our partner through the whole endeavor. She was always open and honest.”

JFS began facilitating same sex adoptions in 2002, mostly to non- Jewish couples. Since then, the agency has been involved with over 150 same sex adoptions. Former JFS social worker Teri Sogol assisted with the very first adoption. She says, “JFS’s history as a welcoming and inclusive social service agency is well known in the GLBTQ community and beyond. This recognition of the agency’s achievement in meeting important benchmarks is well deserved.”

Earlier this year, Governor Lee signed into law a measure that allows agencies to deny adoption services to same-sex couples if doing so violates their religious policies or beliefs. The American Civil Liberties Union urged the Governor not to sign the legislation and advocacy groups like HRC say it targets members of the LGBTQ community. But for JFS, helping all families is business as usual. Pam Kelner, Executive Director, says, “We have always opened our doors to all couples seeking adoption, and we will continue to provide these services as long as they are necessary.” And Brandon Di Paolo Harrison says that by just doing the work, it sends what he calls, “a poignant message that a religious organization in Tennessee will support same-sex families.”

JFS, which achieved the, “Building Foundation for Inclusion,” tier, is the only agency in Tennessee to receive the designation.

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 →