A Safety Net for Our Jewish Community

Tags: Planned Giving, Charitable Giving

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The Jewish Federation of Cleveland's Unrestricted Endowment Fund

When the Jewish Federation of Cleveland published the 2011 Greater Cleveland Jewish Population Study, one of the key findings was that there was significant economic vulnerability in the Cleveland Jewish community. 36% of Jewish households reported that they were “just managing.” 50% of Jewish households reported that they were negatively impacted by the economic downturn – baby boomers experiencing the worst of the effects. These findings, among others, led the Federation to create the Task Force on Financial Distress.

The Task Force brought together community member experts across multiple disciplines and beneficiary agency professionals who are on the front lines of meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in our community. Together, they investigated and studied the issues raised by the findings of the population study as they related to financial distress. This multi-year process led to many recommendations to improve the lives of our Jewish Cleveland community – two of which included the creation of the Forward Focus program at the Jewish Family Services Association, and the Cleveland Chesed Center in Cleveland Heights.

Forward Focus

Forward Focus is an intensive financial literacy and personal budgeting program with housing stabilization and employment components. The main goal of Forward Focus is to break the cycle of poverty. The program serves families and individuals whose heads of households are primarily age 50 and over, long-term unemployed or underemployed, non-disabled, and facing housing instability. Within the first two years of the pilot, Forward Focus reported high percentage improvements in housing self-sufficiency, earned income, food sufficiency, and transportation sufficiency.

One grateful client expressed the positive impact the program has had, saying, “Before Forward Focus came into our lives, we were in seriously troubled waters. No steady job, no savings, no line of credit, and our house on the line, we were out of options. Life was a constant string of stresses – financial, emotional, psychological, and physical. It was a mess and we were at the bottom. Forward Focus has been such a blessing for us. They have brought us back from the brink of disaster and put us on solid footing, advising us, helping us organize our budget, and refocus our priorities in spending.”

The Forward Focus program was able to launch due to a grant from the Federation’s Endowment Fund. Once this funding was obtained, JFSA was not only able to immediately begin providing crucial support to families in need, but also was able to leverage this funding to receive other grants and is today at the forefront of meeting the greatest needs in our community.

The Cleveland Chesed Center

The Chesed Center is more than a food bank – it provides monthly shopping for food, personal care and household necessities, weekly shopping for produce and other staples, gently used clothing and shoes for the whole family, furniture as available, and financial literacy education to further stabilize their clients’ financial solvency – all at no charge.

Over 450 families have been served since its inception, and 200 families are served monthly. The Chesed Center is a partner agency of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and has improved the lives of thousands of community members. Testimonials from clients provide a window into how the Chesed Center impacts individuals and families.

“You have been so supportive and kind and understanding and that means so much to me,” said one client. “You have provided nourishment for our bodies through the pantry and nourishment for our souls through your kindness.”

Both Forward Focus and the Chesed Center are prime examples of programs that are on the frontlines of assisting our most vulnerable community members and are made possible by the Federation’s Unrestricted Endowment Fund. The Endowment Fund was created in 1954 and has been supported with hundreds of Legacy gifts. These donors trusted the leaders of the Federation to be careful stewards of their generosity and use those resources for the highest good.

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