In Part II of our two-part Q & A with our President & CEO Jay Spector, we talk about the mission of JEVS Human Services, what the future holds and just how do you celebrate a milestone like a 75th anniversary?
Q. How have JEVS’ mission and services changed over the years?
A. Looking back to our founding, JEVS was started by community leaders who were concerned about the vocational needs of Jewish immigrants who were fleeing Europe and Nazi Germany’s reign of terror and needed a new start in a new homeland. We were there to help them learn English and find work. That’s how our agency started, and it remains a focus of the organization. Over the years we have provided services to refugees from all corners of the world. When you look back on the 75 years of services, those we serve may have expanded, but our mission to help individuals find independence remains the same. Today, we’re working with individuals from all walks of life–the unemployed, youth, people with disabilities and others facing challenges–and helping them toward their next step.
Q. Speaking of 75 years, how will JEVS be celebrating its anniversary?
A. Since this is such a special anniversary, we will be hosting a 75th Anniversary Gala on March 27th at the Hyatt at the Bellevue. In addition to celebrating JEVS, we will be honoring philanthropists Vivian and Oscar (Ossie) Lasko and Family, who have generously underwritten our Lasko College Prep Program [named for the Lasko family] and supported JEVS’ Orleans Technical College.
I am also very excited to announce our entertainment for the event. Benj Pasek and Ben Platt from the New York Times Critic’s Pick “Dear Evan Hansen” will be performing. The show just opened on Broadway to rave reviews. It’s a powerful story of teenage angst, about youth with many of the same struggles as the youth we serve here at JEVS. Benj is the very talented, song-writing son of my friend and past JEVS Board Chair Jeff Pasek. And many people will recognize Ben from the “Pitch Perfect” movies. They were both recently featured in an article from The New York Times. This is an evening you won’t want to miss! You can find more information on the event on our website at www.jevshumanservices.org/75thgala.
Q. Looking back through JEVS’ history, what are some major milestones that the organization has achieved?
A. In the mid-1980s, new resources were being made available for individuals with disabilities. There was the closing of state hospitals for individuals with intellectual disabilities, who were being essentially warehoused in horrible conditions. We were asked to start to run community homes for these individuals. Up until then we were only offering employment and training programs, some which were for consumers with disabilities, serving them since the 1950s. It’s a big change when you go out and invest in 30 some group homes and also hire about 300 workers. We went from being a 9 to 5, 5-day-a-week operation to operating 24/7.
At roughly the same time, there was also the movement to provide community-based supports to individuals with physical disabilities. We were able to offer an alternative to nursing homes by providing clients with their own caregivers in their own homes. That became a significant program, serving over 4,000 consumers statewide. Those were two monumental happenings in the world of disabilities. Those were quite exciting times.
In the mid-90s when welfare reform was passed at the federal level, we knew we could contribute to the success of these job seekers. We were selected by the City of Philadelphia to work with individuals who had new work requirements in order to get their welfare benefits. We leveraged our expertise and resources from across JEVS, along with our employer relationships, to get people hired and support their success on-the-job.
Q. What does the future look like for JEVS Human Services?
A. I think the future is bright for JEVS. There are going to be challenges ahead for us because of the pressures on funding, but I think we are prepared to handle them. One of the things we’ve learned is how to be really creative in finding the resources necessary to do our jobs–and do them well. I feel good about that.
When I think about the future of JEVS, especially as I get closer to the end of my own career, I am focused on the next generation. My goal–and JEVS’ priority–right now is to make sure we are working toward ending the cycle of poverty. The way you do that is by working with young people. We need to get them skills so they can compete in today’s labor force and get jobs that offer living wages. All of us succeed when young people in our community succeed.