JCRS Speakers: From Foster Care to Success

On March 27, two former New Orleans foster children will give their perspectives in “Overcoming Life’s Challenges and Making Your Life Count.” Their 11 a.m. address at Temple Sinai will be part of the annual meeting for the Jewish Children’s Regional Service, and is open to the community.

Marlene and Robert Trestman grew up in the former St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans, before their parents died. After being orphaned, they were in separate New Orleans foster homes, recruited with the assistance of JCRS.

In a Yom Kippur sermon last year, Marlene stated that their father died in the state mental hospital in Jackson when she was 8; their mother died of cancer when she was 11. Their “severe decree… was tempered by a century of Southern Jewish organizations that graciously accepted the obligation of tzedekah — of social justice.”

The roots of JCRS come from the Jewish Children’s Home, established in 1856. After the home closed in 1946, JCRS started providing non-residential services for Jewish children in a seven-state region from Alabama to Texas. It is the nation’s oldest existing Jewish child welfare agency, and the only regional one.

Marlene was admitted to the Isidore Newman School as a Jewish orphan, as per the school’s charter. She went on to Goucher College and received her law degree at George Washington University. She is currently a Special Assistant to the Maryland Attorney General, having served continuously as an Assistant Attorney General since her graduation from law school 30 years ago. She is the recipient of numerous academic, professional, public affairs, volunteerism, and consumer advocacy awards and recognitions.

She noted that supporters of the Home and JCRS hold a belief that “through tzedekah a beneficiary can become a benefactor — and that an orphan can become an advocate for social justice. And in my case, that a ward of the state could become its legal advisor.”

Robert went to Carnegie-Mellon, then received his doctorate and doctoral degrees at Tennessee. Currently, he is executive director of Correctional Managed Care of Connecticut, which provides care to all jails, prisons and halfway houses in the state. He is a professor of medicine, psychiatry and nursing, at the University of Connecticut and the former clinical chair of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York City. He is the author of over 300 articles and abstracts in the field of psychiatry and the past president of the Personality Disorders Foundation.

Their presentation will be preceded by a JCRS business meeting at 9 a.m., which is also open to the community. The 155-year-old agency funded over 1000 youth last year in a variety of services.

Reservations are not required, but those planning to attend are asked to call (504) 828-6334 to ensure adequate seating. The agency plans to invite the City Council, city department heads and others who “JCRS feels would take pride in hearing what two New Orleanians, from our city’s public housing projects and foster homes achieved, as a result of the collaborative work of New Orleans’ social service, agencies, schools and organizations.”