CJFS celebrates Personal Care Program’s 20th anniversary

CJFS Executive Director Lauren Schwartz introduces the Personal Care Team

For 20 years, through an interfaith partnership, Birmingham’s Collat Jewish Family Services has been providing personal care services for older adults.

That partnership and the Personal Care Program were celebrated at the CJFS Hands Up Together event in May, 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.

LaBrena Friend, CJFS Personal Care Program Manager, said the program “provides assistance to clients who could not otherwise afford this type of care.”

She explained, “personal care allows our clients to continue living independently in their homes, in their communities, and improving the quality of their lives.”

Twenty years ago, the Lucille Beeson Trust of Canterbury United Methodist Church provided startup funding that enabled CJFS to begin providing personal care services.

From an initial 10 clients, the program has grown to serve as many as 150 clients each year.

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.”

Hands Up Together co-chair Anne Warren

Anne Warren, who was co-chair of the May event, 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.”

Over the past 20 years, that support has exceeded $1.5 million, she announced at the gala.

She noted that Canterbury and the Jewish community “have had a long-lasting relationship,” including a dialogue group between Canterbury and Temple Emanu-El.

In 2011, she was asked to be on the CJFS board, “the first gentile invited to do that, and what an honor it was to me.”

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.

Friend noted that as the Covid pandemic began, “our personal care staff remained engaged with our clients… and they were the first team members to interact with our clients during the height of Covid.”

She introduced the Personal Care team, Angela Gaines, Jasmine Gilchrist, Vickie Jackson, Shadell Lewis, Keundra Simpson and Tasha Womack. “They have a combined 90 year health care experience,” she said. “They are the eyes and ears of CJFS, they are committed professionals. Their passion and their hearts are what makes this program so successful.