Category Archive: Client Stories

New Computer Lab helps neighbors in need

IMG_1888Angelique, a Family Stabilization Program client, is an ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constricted Employed person). Since losing her job last year, she has been working day labor jobs as a temporary worker. In some ways this has been great, she has been able to spend time with her children and have flexibility in her schedule, on the other hand she still has many bills to pay. The day labor company pays using a local shopping store’s money card system. Her paycheck goes into an account which she draws funds from similar to a bank’s debit card system. When she recently went to use the card, she noticed her balance was lower than what she recalled. Further investigation led to the discovery that someone had used her card number for fraudulent charges. After contacting the card company and the police, she was directed to file a claim on line. Angelique does not have access to a computer at home, but knew she could come to JFS Orlando’s new computer lab for assistance because she had previously utilized the computer lab during her search for employment. Angelique immediately contacted her FSP case manager who was there to assist Angelique in filing the claim with the help of JFS Orlando’s new technology.

Meet Linda, A Family Stabilization Program Success Story

Linda BrownLinda’s family depends on her, including a 7 month old grandchild that she has custody of while her son is incarcerated. Linda suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. She went on disability when she was first diagnosed, but with the illness could only find temporary work. She came to JFS Orlando on the brink of eviction. Linda found hope when she enrolled in the Family Stabilization Program.

“Doors were closing. I didn’t know what to do. At JFS Orlando, I found positive people who wanted to help me out of my situation. They helped me catch up on my rent so our family could stay together. The classes showed me the road to recovery. They taught me how to write a resume, and how to get my credit back. I also learned about different schooling opportunities. I recently got my forklift operators certification and am working full-time at a warehouse. I am planning on getting my GED in the spring, and, as soon as my credit score improves, I plan on buying a house. Thank you, JFS.”

Meet Yolanda

“There is so much positive energy at JFS Orlando. Everyone here is so nice and wants me to succeed. They taught me that I was worthy of having people around me that wanted me to be myself. They see me as having value”, says Yolanda. “Life’s been hard. I’m a single mom. I have a job as a school crossing guard. I love what I do. I love waving at the children each morning, but I know I need to do more. JFS taught me that I can be more. The classes here have taught me different ways of looking at opportunities. They have taught me how to be more natural with networking and therefore, be more productive. I’m also getting my credit back on track. Thank you, JFS Orlando.”

Yolanda is one of many enrolled in the Family Stabilization Program, a six-month case management program for low-income families designed to improve financial stability and self-sufficiency.

The people who come to JFS Orlando are struggling. They are facing poverty, hunger, homelessness and other significant issues. Regardless of the circumstances that bring people to our doors, JFS Orlando is here to lend a helping hand. JFS Orlando takes a holistic approach to helping individuals and families, like Yolanda, improve their situation with an eye on the long-term solution.

Your donation allows us to continue to help repair the world, one person at a time.

We ask for your generosity to allow us the honor to serve those in need.

Giving families the tools for a brighter future


Sandy Mitchell, a middle-school teacher in Orlando, was helped by Jewish Family Services’ Family Stabilization Program. (Photo by Charles King/Orlando Sentinel)

Article by Matthew J. Palm, Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer, December 16, 2016

When Sandy Mitchell needed to get her life on track, Jewish Family Services was there.

Sandy Mitchell had a lot going for her: A doctorate degree, a career, a new daughter. But then she fell ill with sickle cell disease, a blood disorder. She lost her job at a Jacksonville charter school. Student-loan debt was ballooning. Mitchell ended up in Orlando. And in trouble. She found help in getting her life back on track through Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando, one of the agencies supported by the Orlando Sentinel Family Fund. “I’m still overwhelmed by the great turnaround they helped me make,” said Mitchell, who lives in west Orange County.

Mitchell’s story is not uncommon, said Jeanette M. Brownstein, director of programs for Jewish Family Services. Many people can be knocked down by just a bit of bad luck. “Most of our clients have had some kind of crisis,” she said. The agency, located in Winter Park, helps people pick themselves back up.

“I was getting doors shut on me everywhere,” Mitchell said. “But JFS wanted to help me. I wasn’t able to keep up with my bills. But we came up with a plan.”

Mitchell’s debt was around $60,000, she said, and JFS found her financial counseling. But that was just one piece of the assistance Mitchell received. The JFS Family Stabilization Program takes a holistic approach to helping individuals and families improve their situation with an eye on the long term.

“It’s a whole package deal to help them gain skills for a stable future,” Brownstein said. Along with credit counseling, clients also receive training in employment skills and mental-health support for six months. The program also addresses urgent needs, such as rent and food. Taking care of those essentials makes the long-term education more effective.

“If someone comes in for counseling and they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, that’s what will be on their minds,” Brownstein said. To provide the different services, JFS partners with other organizations such as Christian Help, which manages employment-related coaching, and Consumer Debt Counselors, which handles financial education. While clients participate in the workshops and counseling sessions, day-care is available for children — a service that helped Mitchell provide for her young daughter. Brownstein calls it “a one-stop shop” to “address all of the clients’ financial and emotional needs and empower them to gain stability and self-sufficiency.”

For Mitchell, it was a godsend. Faced with sleeping in her car, she instead used JFS to find a place a live — a daunting task for those with damaged credit. She was able to get a job, teaching business education for Orange County schools. “It’s a passion,” she said of educating children. “I truly, truly enjoy it.”

Mitchell is far from alone in being helped by the agency. Since its inception in 2005, the JFS Family Stabilization Program has served more than 550 families. In the most recent program evaluation, 100 percent of clients demonstrated improved money-management skills, 94 percent maintained or improved their employment status and 94 percent maintained or improved their housing situation.

Mitchell is making progress in paying down her debt, she said. She was able to furnish her home with help from The Mustard Seed, an Orlando furniture and clothing bank. She joined a supportive church in north Orlando and is enjoying her job. Jewish Family Services has a special place in her heart.

“I’m very thankful,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them, I know I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Click here to read the article in the Orlando Sentinel’s website.

Katina is an ALICE

With your help, JFS Orlando can help the growing number of ALICE households, like Katina’s.

With your help, JFS Orlando can help the growing number of ALICE households, like Katina’s.

Katina wakes up in the morning and takes her three children to school, earlier than most, to ensure they get to eat breakfast. Katina has peace of mind knowing her children won’t go hungry today as she makes her way to work as a corrections officer.

When I was married I stayed home with the children. When I divorced, I was hard pressed to find a job. I took what I could get to bring in money.”

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed person. Katina represents the growing number of individuals and families who are working, but are unable to fully afford the necessities of housing, food, health care and transportation. She is employed and receives child support for her three children, but still struggles financially.

“Being a mom is hard. Being a mom raising kids alone, is even harder.”

In Florida, 40 percent of low-income working families are led by women. ALICE households, such as Katina’s, hold jobs, pay taxes, and provide services that are vital to the Florida economy.

Katina was referred to JFS Orlando by a friend participating in the Family Stabilization Program. Once enrolled in the 6 month intensive case management program, Katina learned career and life skills such as job search tactics and how to create (and stick to) a budget.

“The classes gave me the know-how on what’s out there. The resources I was given are amazing. I had no idea there were so many opportunities for me.”

Katina knows that there is still work to do to improve her situation. Technology is always being upgraded and she knows that she needs to sharpen her skills in order to get a better paying job.

“I heard about the computer lab opening up at JFS Orlando. While I know the basics of working a computer, I’m not really good at it. I can see where classes will be a benefit.”

JFS Orlando knows that mental health also plays an extremely important role in the overall well-being of individuals and families. In addition to the workshop classes, Katina was provided with counseling to help her deal with the stress associated with being a single parent and child rearing.

Her family was also provided with food and rental assistance so Katina could focus on improving her situation and could sleep better knowing there would be a roof over their heads and food on the table. Katina is a proud and humble person. She learned it was okay to ask for help.

People come to JFS Orlando during the most trying times in their lives. JFS Orlando provides a holistic array of services in an effort to wrap our arms around our community’s most vulnerable citizens.  All services are offered to those in need regardless of their religion, race, ethnicity or any other demographics. JFS Orlando’s goal is to repair the world one person at a time.

Katina is an ALICE. Katina is your neighbor.

Katina’s family represents the thousands of families JFS Orlando helped this past year. Please continue to allow us this honor to serve them and repair the world one person at a time.


Meet Ken and Merry Bell – RIDE Clients

Merry and Kenn Bell are shown here with their beloved Cockapoo, Shannon.

Merry and Ken Bell are shown here with their beloved Cockapoo, Shannon.

Ken and Merry Bell’s marriage, now 28 years strong, blended two households of one son and one daughter each. One son moved to Orlando, and they followed shortly thereafter, moving into a Kinneret apartment. Ken and Merry have always been independent, but Merry’s illness left her weak and needing a wheelchair, which makes taking the bus impossible. Their insurance allows reimbursement for 4 roundtrips to doctor appointments a year, but Merry has several doctors she visits regularly.

“I don’t drive. Never have,” says Ken. “My step-dad tried to teach me when I was young. The stick shift jammed and the truck lunged out of control, and hit a tree. I walked away telling myself that I didn’t need that aggravation, and I never got back behind the wheel. I always lived in a city with bus transportation or I walked.”

“If we didn’t have the RIDE program, we would have to change doctors, or just not go. Thank you for proving the RIDE program. RIDE provides peace of mind. Merry can go to the doctors she trusts, and get the care she deserves.”

Demand for services continues to increase as the number of people on fixed income increases; families struggle with fewer resources, and are often caring for their aging parents. The National Council On Aging reports that 41% of seniors do not feel that the transportation support in their community is adequate. JFS Orlando responded to Ken and Merry’s need through our Reliable Independent Drivers for the Elderly (RIDE) program by providing them free transportation to their medical appointments. That’s right…Ken and Merry’s RIDE services are provided FREE at no cost to them. In 2015, our RIDE Program provided 564 roundtrip rides to 95 seniors or disabled adults just like Ken and Merry.

Ken and Merry are just two of the growing number of older adults struggling in our community. Please continue to allow us this honor to serve them and provide a better quality of life.


From a client…

I received assistance from the pantry today. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. I have autism, and- as often as not, when I’m very moved, my words come out wrong as much as I mean right. I hope what comes through is the blessing I feel, and the thanks. I get my VA benefits on the first of the month, and due to some extra bills and the Hurricane at the beginning of the month, I had no food money this month. I stretched my cupboard out as far as it would go, but I was scared. The last five days of the month had two small bags of dried beans in store for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I’m terrible at making beans. I am historically awful at beans. Overcooking, undercooking, kitchen fires. I’ve only had to ask for food aid a couple of times in my life. And I have a panic disorder. I’m often afraid to leave the house. I made it to the pantry, it was near my house. I filled out some forms and showed my id. The people working there were nice. I was given a beautiful small cart of groceries. Four bags full! I nearly cried. Bread, soup, milk (!) and produce (!) and peanut butter and canned vegetables and fruit and PROTIENS! Meat! Canned and frozen. And Halloween cookies! I know you give help to people of all faiths. I was touched to the deep part of me. Thank you.

April needed a helping hand for her and her daughter

April“When I first learned about Jewish Family Services, my daughter and I were living with strangers. I was appreciative, but still under tremendous stress. My daughter’s father had been picked up by Immigration for something that if we had money we could have fought. We tried to keep our family together, but then he was deported. He had been the bread winner. Without his support, I found myself a single mother struggling to keep my baby housed and fed.

In need of help, a social worker on encouraged me to call JFS Orlando. I am so grateful that I did. They provide so many amazing programs to help struggling families, like us, get back on their feet. I got emotional support from counselors to learn to deal with stress and guidance from my caseworker to have a fresh start. The staff here have become like a second family to us. Because of JFS Orlando, today my baby and I have our own apartment, food and lights. We are better today because of the charity of individual people and corporations who support Jewish Family Services. Thank you.” – April


Meet Judy: a widow and a JFS Orlando Grief Support Group Client

IMG_1002When Judy’s husband of 42 years was diagnosed with cancer, she was devastated. She vowed to be there for him. She struggled with him through chemotherapy and surgery. Four months later he was gone. She felt paralyzed. She cried nonstop. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. She’d open his closet doors knowing that she should do something with his things, yet couldn’t. She thought she was losing her mind. One day while at synagogue, she saw a flyer for a grief support program being offered through JFS Orlando. A friend encouraged her to attend. “Going through the support group was a lifeline for me. It made me feel normal again. By listening to others share their story, I learned what I was feeling was normal. We cried. We hugged. We cried some more. They became my friends. This was the beginning of the healing. I still feel sad and feel the loss, but I know now that these feelings are part of the grief process. I recommend the support group for anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one.”




Cynthia Crouch: Gratitude Speech at Spring Brunch

Meet Cynthia Crouch, Former JFS Orlando Family Stabilization Program Participant. Here is what she had to share about the program and JFS Orlando at the Annual Spring Brunch:

Cynthia Crouch

Cynthia Crouch, Former Family Stabilization Program Participant, is shown here with her husband, James. Cynthia shared her story at the 2016 Annual Spring Brunch.

The Family Stabilization Program catapulted my growth exponentially.
Things felt impossible, I was a single mother experiencing life on my own for the very first time. My self-esteem was destroyed, and I felt inadequate. I didn’t know how to live on my own, balance a check book, and I had little confidence; after all this was the first time in my life that no one was telling me what to do, or how to do it. A persistent voice in my head saying, “your worthless- you’re nothing without me.” “You will never make it on your own.” “You want to leave-go…but not with my children.”
16-years marriage ended. I was broken and I was terrified. I did not know how to support myself and I couldn’t fathom how I would possibly take care of my children. I was struggling, and I went to bed many nights hungry. I found a job as a receptionist working full-time for minimum wage and started attending college classes in the evening. I remember lying in bed at night crying and praying to a God “please help me.”
I would see Jewish Family Services’ staff set up in a vacant office once a week at my place of employment, and that is how I found out about the program. I began to wonder if I qualified for the Family Stabilization Program. One day I went in, humbly and honestly explained my situation and prayers were answered. I qualified for the program! It was so much more than I could have imagined. I didn’t know it then but this assistance would catapult my life, my career, and growth as a mother, and woman exponentially. I became hopeful and began to believe that I worth much more than I gave myself credit for.
I found a small apartment and FSP provided the first month’s rent and utility deposit along with food assistance and budgeting workshops that taught me how to live within my means and helped me establish credit. These workshops are still in use in my life today. I was able to stay in school. I earned my Associate’s degree, went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Rollins College, and received my credentials as Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). The encouragement, the hand up, the compassion, the life skills… helped me believe in myself, in my darkest hours.
Presently I a second year graduate student working towards the credentials Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), but more importantly I am a positive role model for my children. I am a strong, compassionate woman. I am a survivor, no longer a victim. Thank you, Jewish Family Services, for empowering me to empower myself. I love who I have become and I love that I get to pay it forward every day in the community through my profession.
Thank all of you who are here today for supporting this agency.