By Deb Silverthorn
Jewish Family Service welcomed staff, donors and leadership last week to view the expansion and renovation of its building.
“Collaborating from different sites, in addition to the trials of the pandemic, hasn’t been easy but we’re home,” said JFS CEO Cathy Barker. “Welcoming our Society of Life donors, really the first in the building in almost two years, is very special.”
When JFS bought the current, 8,000-square-foot Edna Zale building in 2001, the purchase came with a 25-year lease for the adjacent 10,000-square-foot space of Plaza Salon Prestonwood. Negotiations for the space took place many times over the years and were finally solidified in mid-2020.
In addition to the expansion of the new space, much of the original building has been renovated. During the past 21 months of food pantry drive-thru distributions, much of the existing office space and hallways were used to store pallets for the supplies that would come in each Wednesday for the Thursday distribution. Carpet, tile, floors and doorways took the brunt of the damage caused by electric pallet jacks and other moving parts.
“This day is years in the making and, after 18 months of drive-thru construction, supply chain demands and sourcing, we can finally say we are back in our client-choice model,” said Robin Raxlin Gormley, JFS’ senior director of Special Programs, Hunger Relief. “Our volunteers logged thousands of hours in our drive-thru, food sorting… stocking shelves and making more possible for our clients than ever before.” Volunteers also helped assemble furniture and shelves.
The expansion was made possible through more than $730,000 in donations, $184,000 of which came from a two-month Some Assembly Required campaign to cover the cost of finishings and technology. Donations to JFS’ campaign assist in the continued operation of the new and improved client-choice food pantry; buying of fresh produce and other perishable items from community retail partners; provision of kosher food; case management; and access to the rest of the agency’s services.
“We’re excited to see our clients in person,” said Raxlin Gormley, “in a safe and dignified manner that allows them to leave with the tools, and the hope, of getting back on the path to self-sufficiency.”
The expansion of Jewish Family Service’s Edna Zale building has meant the return of many staffers who had been working in satellite offices. Now, except for those staffing The Resale Shop in Richardson, all are under one roof.
“For the first time in almost six years, we’re all back together and it’s delightful,” said Debi Weiner, JFS senior director of Older Adult Services, whose department has returned along with those in the accounting and development offices. “To be able to see each other benefits us greatly as a team, but even more so for our clients as we try so very hard to share as many wrap-around services as necessary.”
For the past 21 months, the members of Weiner’s team, as most counseling services of JFS, have been working with their clients through telehealth appointments. Whether by phone or computer, she has been impressed by how many of the older adults have taken advantage of technology. “Some have needed help, but it’s really been wonderful to see people trying and succeeding.”
Julie Liberman, JFS board chair, will host her first in-person meeting this week in a new boardroom. “We’re back in business the way we hope to be — our people seeing our people,” she said. Since she took office in May 2020, all board meetings have been virtual, as have most agency services. Being open physically, she said, “gives off a palpable energy in every part of the building. I’m so proud of everything that everyone has done, JFS never for a minute losing sight of our mission or purpose.”
At the grand reopening, donors also toured the Nancy Lieberman Charities DreamCourt, an active play therapy option also used as a team-building activity for staffers. They saw the volunteer breakroom; its predecessor was surrendered in recent years to storage and office space. They also toured the Job Resource Center (JRC), which of late has housed tens of thousands of diapers and other items (they now have a dedicated space) collected through JFS’ Annual Diaper Shower. The JRC’s computer classes, and other programs supporting clients, which have been virtual through the pandemic, will return as safety allows.
“We’re working toward bringing back the culture of Jewish Family Service, to support our clients wholly and in person,” said Barker. “We’re home and ready to serve stronger and better than ever.”