Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles

JFS { LIFE@Home Brings Community & Connection to Homebound Holocaust Survivors

It has been getting harder for Joe to leave the house. As he gets older and frailer, his physical limitations, now confining him to a wheelchair, often keep him from being able to go out at all. A Survivor of the Holocaust, Joe has been an active participant of JFS’ Café Europa, a weekly social club for Survivors that helps them to build supportive relationships and participate in social and educational activities. But now he is unable to attend Café Europa and the many other JFS programs and activities he enjoyed at JFS senior centers. “He is such an intelligent and giving and loving man,” said Victoria Pivnik, MSW, LCSW, the clinical social worker who has been working with Joe for years. “Seeing how isolated he became – how depressed and lonely he was – it broke my heart.”

Enter JFS { LIFE@Home, a new program that connects Survivors who are most at risk for isolation and loneliness to life-improving services, to the community, and to each other. Thanks to a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, JFS is bringing dignity and connection into the lives of Survivors and bringing their community directly into their homes. The technology, developed by Uniper Care Technologies, an Israeli company, transforms a television into a two-way video platform that connects to JFS’ senior centers. From their own living rooms, frail and homebound Survivors are able to participate in a broad array of activities and programs that provide social engagement and improve their health and wellness. They can see everyone in the room, and everyone can see them.

Joe was one of the first JFS clients to try out the new technology. “Now that Joe is connected to the community through JFS { LIFE@Home, he has transformed into a new person,” said Victoria Pivnik. “His passion for life is renewed and he is revived.” Joe is already one of the program’s most frequent users, if not the most frequent. He takes classes with JFS members from his own home every day, five days a week. “He can see them and interact with them, and they can connect with him,” Victoria continued. “It’s a virtual community, but the connections are very real.” Since Joe began using JFS { LIFE@Home, he has once again found meaning in his life. “He is so happy,” Victoria said. “Every day he shows up with a fresh shave, his hair styled, and a new outfit.” His caregiver has also noticed that JFS { LIFE@Home has inspired him to live fuller every day. As opposed to relying on his caretaker to push him in his wheelchair, Joe is now challenging himself to stand and walk on his own, holding on to his wheelchair as he makes his way around his house. “Every time I see him I get emotional,” Victoria said. “JFS { LIFE@Home saved him. It saved his life.”

The positive impact of JFS { LIFE@Home has been already been dramatic. Survivors who are participating have found the technology easy to use and are engaging with JFS programs and services on an average of four times per day, and JFS has already expanded available services on the platform in response to the great demand from Survivors. Based on surveys of the participants, over 80% have experienced a reduction in their sense of loneliness because of the program, and over 90% report that they feel the quality of their lives has improved. Many of the participants entered the program experiencing depression and severe loneliness, often not having left their homes or engaged with anyone socially for years. Within a few short months, their transformations were breathtaking as the same participants were seen smiling, laughing, and engaging with friends old and new.

JFS { LIFE@Home is a means of connection for members of our community,” said Sheila Moore, JFS Senior Director of Comprehensive Senior Services. “The frailer our Survivors become, the more often it means they remain at home and lose their sense of connection, of community. Many of them had found meaningful relationships and connection at Café Europa, or at programs at our senior centers, but then could no longer attend. JFS { LIFE@Home gives us the opportunity to reach them in their homes so that they live inspired, fit, and engaged (where the acronym “LIFE” originates). Not isolated and alone, but deeply connected to their community.”

The next phase of JFS { LIFE@Home is to go beyond connecting Survivors to JFS programs and services by connecting them to each other through video social groups. Many of the Survivors who attend Café Europa have been close friends for decades. Victoria Pivnik spoke of ten of these women, dear friends for 30 or 40 years, who recently had to stop attending Café Europa because of physical limitations and decreased mobility. “They were heartbroken,” Victoria said. “They kept saying, ‘We want to get together, to see each other, but we can’t.’ So we connected them all to each other via the JFS { LIFE@Home technology, and now they’re meeting for tea and kibitzing through their television sets. This technology is not only creating a new sense of connection for Survivors, for many of them it is preserving and rebuilding the connections that were already so important for them.”

As the program develops, JFS hopes to expand the benefits of JFS { LIFE@Home beyond the Survivor population, helping to bring the JFS community to more frail and homebound older adults connected to the organization.We at JFS are grateful to the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles for their support. The Foundation’s generous grant allows us to spearhead innovative solutions that help our aging community members do so with dignity and grace.  Companionship, contact with others, and involvement in social activities are as essential to health and wellbeing as physical care. As Sheila Moore stated, “JFS { LIFE@Home is about the beauty and power of connection.” We know this to be true, and what we have already seen is truly remarkable.

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Social services for Nazi victims have been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
JFSLA receives funds from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Holocaust Survivor Emergency Assistance Fund, administered by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany for the benefit of needy Jewish Nazi victims.
Funds have been provided by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany for the Emergency Assistance Program for Nazi Victims at the discretion of the United States District Court supervising the lawsuit In Re: Holocaust Victim Assets Litigation (Swiss Banks).

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