Young Families Creatively Connect During COVID-19

Tags: Federation, Here for Good News, Family, PJ Library

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Young families have not been immune from isolation amid the surge of the pandemic. In fact, one could argue, they have been among the most vulnerable.

Judy Reynolds Borgen moved to Cleveland a few years ago, after meeting a Clevelander during a Masa Israel experience. Just as she was heading back to her state of California to complete a graduate school program, she met her future husband. After a three-year long-distance relationship, they married and settled in Cleveland. It was in 2020 that she and her husband were eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child when the world turned upside down. Judy gave birth to a baby girl on March 15. The couple did not have family living nearby. Fortunately, Judy’s parents flew in from Los Angeles for a week, a day before the baby was born. A week later, Judy and her husband were on their own, trying to “figure it all out.” Thankfully, Leah Taylor and Ali Schwartz (PJ Library’s Young Families Ambassador) were thinking ahead.

PJ Library® had hosted new moms’ groups before, always a great way to introduce new moms who are sharing an experience to each other and a wonderful way to bring them into the PJ Library fold. This time, things would be different. A virtual new moms’ group with babies less than three months of age was created in April 2020. The group started with seven first-time moms and has grown to nineteen, thanks to a good word-of-mouth campaign. Typically, four to six moms attend each session. The moms are pleased to be going through this experience (of having a baby for the first time AT this unique time) with other Jewish moms.

Judy shared that it has been wonderful to know they are not alone. Moderated by PJ Library staff, they share ideas on feeding, sleeping, books, and toys and have built a real bond. Judy declared the group a rousing success and added that the virtual aspect was a real silver lining. “We can meet almost anytime,” she says. “We don’t have to worry about nap times or feedings.” Of course, at some point it will be important that the babies (and moms!) socialize but, especially in the beginning it was a real blessing.

The virtual moms’ group is but one example of the pivoting that has ensued as we all get accustomed to a new normal. Typically, PJ Library and the Mandel Jewish Community Center co-host a “Family Fun Day” at the Anisfield Day Camp during the summer; of course, that had to be canceled in 2020. Instead funds were used to put together and deliver PJ Library Welcome Summer Kits to PJ and PJ Our Way Library Families. Two hundred families chose between “Fun in the Sun” (beach ball, jump rope, chalk, sunglasses, and bubbles) and “Watch me Grow” (seeds, pot and soil to plant them in, a watering can, and gloves) kits. Both also included a helpful parent resource kit.

Leah Taylor indicated their aim was “to create a meaningful way to reach out to PJ Library families in a safe way, to provide an interactive and hands-on experience everyone craves. Families were able to select their kits and find one that connected to their family. We included a card that promoted a Jewish value, hoping to provide parents with an opportunity to talk with their children about the Jewish value and how they can fulfil it in their everyday lives.” PJ Library Federation Staff and JVN Volunteers delivered the kits, contact free. Family responses were extremely positive and enthusiastic!

In another effort to support young families this year, the Maltz Museum developed a Kindness Camp, in collaboration with PJ Library, B’nai Jeshurun Congregation, jHUB, and three other area organizations. The program met five days a week, during the month of July 2020. PJ Library and B’nai Jeshurun have taken the lead on Fridays, with a Shabbat theme. “Along with the staff of B’nai Jeshurun early childhood, we read an interactive PJ Library book, enjoy music by Chuck Fink, and celebrate Shabbat with Rabbi Josh Foster,” Leah indicates. Approximately fifteen families participate at each 45-minute session.

Every year, PJ Library hosts an event to honor Mort z”l and Iris November who endowed the Debra Ann November PJ Library program in Cleveland, in partnership with the Federation and the Grinspoon Foundation. This year was no different, though the program included a twist. Families maintained a reading log for the month of August, and instead of meeting at Mitchell’s for ice cream at the end of the month to celebrate the completion of the book log, each family received a coupon for a scoop of ice cream in the mail.

To be sensitive to our own staff with young children, there is also now a group being led by Federation staff (Sharon Socher, Jessica Semel and Leah Taylor) to discuss parent issues in the age of COVID-19. Typically, 9-12 people with children under ten years of age convene by Zoom every three weeks. Though it is no replacement for “the lunch table,” it is one more way in which we are finding ways to connect and reduce the sense of isolation among young families.

PJ Library staff continues to come up with new ways to cope with the social isolation which young families are facing during this unique and challenging time.

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Learn More: Federation, Here for Good News, Family, PJ Library