CLINIC values the dedication and commitment to service demonstrated by our affiliate agencies in their work with their communities. This month we highlight an outstanding agency:
Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay (JFCS/East Bay)
By: Holly Taines White and Caryn H. Crosthwait
JFCS/East Bay is located in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area—home to and destination for refugees and immigrants from all over the world. With its multi-lingual, multi-cultural staff, JFCS/East Bay has long served people from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iran, the former Soviet Union, and Central and South America. The agency recently started expanding services to refugees from Iraq.
People often wonder how a Jewish agency came to provide services to clients from this wide range of religions, ethnicities, and races. JFCS/East Bay’s answer is simple: the agency’s mission is to improve the well-being of the entire diverse, vibrant community in which its staff, volunteers, and supporters live and work. The agency is rooted within the Jewish community, but has evolved into a truly multicultural agency that reflects the East Bay’s cities and neighborhoods.
JFCS/East Bay’s commitment to immigrants and refugees also deeply resonates with the agency’s historical roots. Founded in 1877, JFCS/East Bay initially welcomed Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and then people fleeing the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. In the 1930s, the agency became involved in large-scale resettlement and acculturation services for Jews escaping Nazi Germany, and later welcomed European Holocaust survivors. Starting in the 1970s, the agency resettled large numbers of Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. As the numbers of these Jewish refugees decreased in the 1990s, the agency made a conscious decision to extend its expertise to otherwise neglected groups of refugees and immigrants, typically those who had experienced racial or religious discrimination. More recently, the agency began serving refugees persecuted based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In addition to a wide variety of other mental health and social services, JFCS/East Bay has been providing low-cost permanent resident card and citizenship application assistance since 1998. To increase and enhance its immigration legal services capacity, JFCS/East Bay collaborated with CLINIC in 2012 to obtain BIA recognition for the agency as well as partial accreditation for four current staff members who speak English, Farsi, Dari, Bosnian, and Russian.
JFCS/East Bay is now further expanding its immigration legal services offerings, both in the type of services provided as well as the number of clients served. It is particularly committed to serving Spanish-speaking clients in Contra Costa County. In December 2013, the agency brought on staff a Spanish-speaking immigration attorney. The attorney now supervises the Immigration Legal Services program; provides direct legal services; and leads concerted outreach efforts within the local community.
In addition, JFCS/East Bay has recently hired a part-time Arabic-speaking case manager. She is currently providing translation services and other client assistance and, with CLINIC’s guidance, will pursue BIA accreditation later this year. The agency also has a Farsi/Dari-speaking clinical psychologist on staff who assists clients with medical disability waivers to enable them to obtain U.S. citizenship.
This year, JFCS/East Bay expects to provide immigration legal services to 250 of its diverse clients. CLINIC’s support and technical assistance have been essential to the successful launch of this expanded Immigration Legal Services program.
*By Caryn H. Crosthwait and Holly Taines White, staff at Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay