CJFS Hands Up Together celebrates 20th anniversary of personal care program

Twenty years ago, the Lucille Beeson Trust of Canterbury Methodist Church provided startup funding that enabled Birmingham’s Collat Jewish Family Services to begin providing personal care services.

From an initial 10 clients, the program, which provides services that enable older adults on limited incomes to continue living independently, has grown to serve as many as 150 clients each year, and the program’s 20th anniversary will be the focus of this year’s JCFS Hands Up Together event.

Presenting sponsors for the event are the Beeson Trust and Medical Properties Trust; event co-chairs are Anne Warren, who helped launch the program through her leadership with the Beeson Trust, and Robert Levin. The event will be on May 2 at 5:30 p.m. at The Farrell in Homewood.

Personal Care team members from CJFS visit clients for 1 to 4 hours each week providing bathing assistance, meal preparation, laundry service, and/or light housekeeping for an average fee around $4 per hour. These regular, friendly check-ins provide much-needed socialization, in addition to helping clients manage tasks that they could not handle alone.

Esther Schuster served as the agency’s executive director when the Personal Care program was founded. “The idea for the personal care program came from the Jewish Family Services staff,” she recalled. “They were working with older people who wanted to continue living independently in their homes or apartments, but who needed just a little bit of help to make that possible — maybe help with bathing or tasks in the home that were difficult for them.”

The agency tried to find an existing program for those services, “but they all required at least a four-hour minimum per visit. These particular clients didn’t need that much help, and they couldn’t afford it.”

Warren was the founding chair of the Beeson Trust at that time. “The funds that Canterbury received after the death of Lucille Beeson were designated to be used to benefit the needy elderly in Jefferson County,” she recalled. In 2003, “CJFS came to talk to us about starting the Personal Care program. We agreed that it was hugely needed and that it would make a difference in older people’s lives, allowing them to live in their own homes or apartments independently for longer. For many years, the Beeson Trust has funded this program at its maximum level.”

Most clients in the program reside in subsidized senior housing communities, such as Episcopal Place. Tim Blanton, executive director of Episcopal Place, said if not for the Personal Care program, many of his residents would be unable to continue living in their apartments. These residents cannot do all of the housekeeping that is required of residents in federally subsidized housing, he said. “They can’t afford to have someone do it, and they don’t have family and friends that can help.” Many of them also live very isolated lives, he added. “A lot of times the personal care attendant is the only person they may see.

Tickets are $100, and are available on the CJFS website. Sponsorships start at $500.