“Holocaust survivors are our teachers and our heroes,” said Mark Wilf, the chair of The Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) board of trustees. “With inspiring strength and conviction, they teach us about the past. Now, they are teaching us how to better serve all older adults who have survived trauma.”
Reports suggest that one out of three Holocaust survivors in the US lives in poverty, and as many as ninety percent of older adults in the US have a history of trauma, which can be caused by events such as war, violence, accidents, domestic or sexual abuse, or discrimination based on race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the challenges experienced by Holocaust survivors and other older populations. Many live alone and are at risk for social isolation, depression, and other physical and mental health conditions.
Recognizing the value of the person-centered, trauma-informed (PCTI) approach, the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living has awarded a new grant of five million dollars to JFNA’s Center on Aging and Trauma to serve Holocaust survivors, other older adults with a history of trauma, and their family caregivers. Funds from private philanthropists complement the federal grant.
PCTI care is a holistic approach to service provision that promotes the dignity, strength, and empowerment of all individuals by incorporating knowledge about the role of trauma in victims' lives into agency programs, policies, and procedures. Spearheaded by JFNA, this approach acknowledges that survivors of trauma have distinct and extraordinary needs, and that service delivery must include an understanding of these needs to avoid re-traumatization.
Jewish Family Service will draw on its knowledge and history of providing PCTI care and the success of its Tablets and Technology: Alleviating Isolation in Holocaust Survivors program to teach Cincinnati area survivors how to use tablet technology; this will provide socialization opportunities and improve their quality of life.
Meredith Davis is the director of the Center for Holocaust Survivors at Jewish Family Service. She explained that JFS’s trauma-informed programming will ensure survivors stay connected to the community while also respecting their need for independence by teaching them to communicate and connect with the world electronically.
“We will use the Generations Online curriculum,” she said. “It was developed particularly to help older adults, for whom English is not their first language, develop basic tablet skills such as communicating with friends and family, email for written communication, and online searches for games and entertainment.” She said an advanced curriculum developed by JFS will teach additional skills to connect with family and friends.
Davis said the use of trauma-informed approaches that address the unique needs of Holocaust survivors will include one-on-one support and training of volunteers to identify triggers that arise in their work with survivors and to bring those situations back to JFS’s team of social workers and care managers for additional support.
“JFNA has been a steadfast partner in our work to help Holocaust survivors live their fullest and most meaningful lives,” said JFS CEO Liz Vogel. “We are grateful for this funding and the many other resources they provide to our team and others serving survivors around the US.”