To be a good community member, social services agency Jewish Family Services must attend to its entire community, said Kevin Boland, the director of the department of social services at Milwaukee-based Jewish Family Services.
Boland said the organization has its roots in the Jewish values of tzedakah – charitable giving – and chesed – loving-kindness. With those values in mind, Boland said, Jewish Family Services is again serving as the parent organization of a local coalition focused on reducing suicide in the Milwaukee region.
The Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee coalition formed in 2010. The group, said co-chair Andrea Nauer-Waldschmidt, includes professionals, clinicians, individuals who have lived experience with depression or suicidal thoughts and others.
“It was this opportunity to create something for the community where we can have a hub for education to enhance everyone with community-wide knowledge about suicide prevention, have a centralized location for resources as needed, as well as be a face for suicide prevention within the community,” Nauer-Waldschmidt said.
The organization serves Milwaukee County and its neighboring counties, she said.
In 2010, Nauer-Waldschmidt said, Jewish Family Services and Mental Health America of Wisconsin collaborated to develop Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee; Jewish Family Services served as the parent organization. Eventually, the program moved to be housed under Mental Health America.
Jewish Family Services remained a partner in Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee throughout, Boland said. When the coalition needed a new parent organization last year, Boland said he saw an opportunity for the social services provider to take a stronger role.
“It was the right time, right place, right fit,” Boland said.
Although the program is not specifically directed toward the Jewish community, Boland said Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee can connect those in need with Jewish resources. For example, he said, the coalition could make a referral to Jewish Family Services’ mental health clinic if someone sought service from a provider with knowledge of Judaism.
“The reality of it is, is that we’re here to help whoever needs the help – regardless of faith, religion, race, any of those things,” he said.
The coalition hosts quarterly meetings that feature speakers who cover timely topics in suicide prevention. Those meetings switched to a virtual format during the COVID-19 pandemic, Boland said.
With the transition back to Jewish Family Services as its parent, Boland said the past year has been a “rebuilding year” for Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee. New members have joined the coalition’s steering committee, and leaders have been reviewing the group’s bylaws, operations and committee structure.
Meanwhile, Boland said, Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee continued its efforts to raise awareness.
In 2022, he said, the coalition wants to expand its suicide prevention training programs. Specific plans for the year will depend on what grants come through.
The group’s work is funded by grants and donations. Its site is at PreventSuicideMke.com.
Nauer-Waldschmidt said the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted the need for Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee’s work. People are facing challenges they haven’t experienced before, she said.
“This really is an opportunity as a coalition to reach out for individuals that have had mental illness, longstanding, or that find themselves at a crossroads,” she said.
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Jewish Family Services resources:
- Shelby Guendel, Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee Coordinator: 414-225-1302, SGuendel@Jfsmilw.org.
- Beth Mumper, Jewish Community Case Manager: 414-225-1347, EMumper@JfsMilw.org
- Leah Trachtenburg, Jewish Community Advocate: 414-225-1334, LTrachtenburg@Jfsmilw.org