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Community Grants Initiative | 01-Dec-2015

Community Grants Initiative Investing in the Community

One of the most exciting—and effective— recent collaborations between the Jewish Foundation, Jewish Federation and our local synagogues and agencies is the one million Community Grants Initiative. This was conceived in response to the 2013 economic downturn as well as the need to enable local Jewish organizations to pursue vital programs, shore up aging physical structures, and help our community better address its most urgent needs.

One such grantee was Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek, a reform synagogue in Chester, CT, which used grant funds to improve outreach efforts among its more isolated members. Working with Jewish Family Service and the congregation’s Chesed leadership, Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek hired a community caring coordinator—who makes home and hospital visits, drives people to temple events, connects with members enduring cancer treatments, unemployment, or other socially isolating events—and so much more.

For Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg, the positive impact of having a caring coordinator on staff was felt immediately. “Not only are members getting the care they need, but our volunteers are galvanized to do more,” she says. “It puts caring at the very center of our community.”

A caring focus is what led Dr. Jonathan Garfinkle, Director of Jewish Family Service, to seek community grant funds for his organization’s New Haven food pantry on Whalley Avenue. Strengthened by a $100,000 matching grant from the Jewish Foundation, Dr. Garfinkle helped transform this longtime emergency food assistance program into a comprehensive nutritional health center.

“Because of this grant, our capacity to provide meaningful services to our most disadvantaged clients dramatically increased,” says Dr. Garfinkle. “We’re open longer and we’ve added staffing, and we now offer a wide range of important classes like nutrition, cooking, health, stress management and financial counseling.”

Serving 450 families of all ages and demographics—90% of whom live below the poverty line—Dr. Garfinkle is thrilled with the positive community impact the expanded nutritional center provides. “We’re not just filling bellies; we’re teaching families how to feed themselves nutritionally and emotionally in ways that are healthy and sustainable long-term.”

Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen, leader of Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel in New Haven, also understands the importance of community education and growth. His diverse urban congregation of 280 families—founded in 1892 and housed in their present facility since 1959—hosts twice-daily services, robust education programs, and an award-winning youth group for junior and senior high school students.

That’s why, when community grants became available through the Jewish Foundation to replace the synagogue’s aging windows, Rabbi Tilsen didn’t hesitate to move forward.

“There’s only so much caulking you can do,” says Rabbi Tilsen of the windows, which were original to the structure, leaky, and grossly inefficient. “The benefit was immediate and long-term. The difference was visually apparent to all our members, and everyone’s pleasure and comfort was instantly improved. Not to mention, we’re saving money on energy expenses exponentially in the long run.”

In addition to required reporting, all grantees were required to raise matching funds in order to receive grant payments.  Grantees included: Congregation BEKI for new windows; Temple Beth Sholom for a partial roof replacement; Congregation Mishkan Israel for their parking lot; Ezra Academy and Congregation B’nai Jacob for a new roof; Jewish Family Service for an expansion of their food pantry including social services for participants; Temple Emanuel to create a new synagogue campus; Westville synagogue for replacement of their ac system; Southern CT Hebrew Academy for a new parking lot; Beth Israel, Wallingford for a new garden and restoration of their entry window; Camp Laurelwood for winterization of their recreation hall; Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek for a community care coordinator; Congregation Or Shalom for capital improvements.  In addition, grant awards included the Towers Foundation for their fall prevention program; Orchard Street Shul for an elevator; Temple Beth David for restoration of their sanctuary; Jewish Historical Society for a museum in the streets; Congregation Mishkan Israel for their parking lot; Hebrew Congregation of Woodmont to expand their kosher kitchen; and Temple Beth Tikvah for their driveway and parking lot.

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