Volunteer phone calls are for Jewish seniors

Initially, the elderly man didn’t know why Becca Guralnick was calling. So many on the line want money or sensitive identifying information.  

But Guralnick, a volunteer for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Services, just phoned to chat and find out if he needed anything besides a friendly conversation during this isolating and anxiety-producing pandemic. 

“I could feel his face light up over the phone and we proceeded to talk for a half hour about all sorts of things,” said Guralnick, a professional chef and lawyer. “He was essentially doing fine, but he had a couple of concerns that he was taking care of,” including getting a COVID-19 vaccine.  

Volunteers like Guralnick are making phone calls for the Older Jewish Adult Outreach Service Project. The Project addresses the needs of seniors in the Milwaukee Jewish community. It’s a program of Jewish Family Services, funded by Federation’s The Fund for Jewish MKE campaign for pandemic relief.  

“Our needs assessments show that many older adults are struggling more than ever,” said Joan Lubar, who co-chairs Federation’s COVID-19 Community Response Team with Sara Hermanoff. “This project is part of a network of programs we’re funding to support seniors.” 

Women’s Philanthropy of Federation has supplied volunteers, who were trained by JFS.  

“I think during these challenging times, there are aging populations that are struggling and may not know how to reach out,” said Diane Zall, director of Women’s Philanthropy. “So, we want to see if we can identify any of those needs and help out.” 

Anne David, JFS director of clinical services, said that the calls “help mitigate social isolation, but also help us offer an array of services that are available to them at this time.” An example of a service the Outreach Service project can refer to is mental health therapy for older adults who are struggling with depression, anxiety or memory loss. Others need emergency assistance for food, clothing or medication. And some are referred to Hillel Milwaukee’s Mensch Tech program. Seniors can receive free computer services to those less comfortable with technology who would like to stay connected through virtual events and email. 

Guralnick is a longtime volunteer for the Federation – from committee work to making campaign solicitations. The Outreach Service project is a way she can work directly with those in need in the Jewish community. “I wanted to be a part of that, to reach out to people who have been in isolation,” she said.  

Volunteer Michelle Walny, a teacher at Nicolet High School, learned about this program on her friend’s Facebook page. She said she just wants “to make sure that everybody in our community is really taken care of during Covid.” 

Jonathan Jesse made his first call a month ago after being trained by Jewish Family Services. “My biggest surprise is how positive of a response we’ve gotten,” said Jesse, a semi-retired retail executive. “Whatever issue they may or may not have, some type of support is a good thing.” 

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Older Jewish Adult Outreach Service Project 

If you’d appreciate a call, or to refer a senior to be called, contact Jessica Laughlin, Outreach Coordinator: JLaughlin@JfsMilw.org or 414-225-1385. To volunteer, contact JFS Special Events and Volunteer Services Manager Crysta Schlitz at CSchlitz@JfsMilw.org or 414-225-1390 to begin the volunteer approval process.