In 1957, Long Beach was a modest-sized city poised for growth. It was predominately a Navy town that was experiencing the fruits of the strong post-war economy, with new housing tracts, schools, and shopping areas that were being built on former bean fields all across the eastern part of the city. The Jewish community consisted of a population of about 2600 families comprising some 8900 people among a total city population of perhaps 325,000 at the time.
Along with this thriving Jewish community came the need to provide counseling for families and individuals with their personal problems, emergency financial aid, and when necessary, assistance with the resettlement of refugee families. Fortunately, energized members of the National Council of Jewish Women were determined to satisfy that need. It was they who spearheaded the development of Jewish Family Service of Long Beach, and in January of 1957, the JFS was born. In 1958 additional services were added, such as aid to the aging, unemployment services, and those coping with vocational, housing or health issues. After only two years, the scope and focus of the organization expanded, and with the support of the City of Lakewood, JFS began to offer its services to all Lakewood residents. In doing so, the agency gained its acceptance as a constituent agency of the United Neighbors Community Chest, now known as United Way. This new partnership gave the organization further recognition and stature in the community.
In 1961 the agency created its first support groups, which consisted of a group for women having marital problems, and one for adolescent girls aged 14 to 16. In the 1980’s the agency took a major leap by adding programs specifically to serve children. The agency distinguished the new service by incorporating children into its name. The 1990’s brought expansive growth due to a successful effort to obtain grants from foundations to fund additional services.
Perhaps the most challenging period to date in JFCS’ history were the years from 2008 to 2012. The Great Recession created a very difficult path for all non-profits. Foundations who had heretofore funded programs and services offered by JFCS and similar agencies found their investment streams withered, and their ability to award grants at previous levels had eroded. JFCS navigated these tough times by focusing on fundraising efforts, seeking new grant sources for some of its programs, and bridging gaps using its reserves as a last resort.
In 2012 Executive Director Wendy Puzarne retired, and after an exhaustive search to find the best candidate to take the helm at JFCS, Kathryn Miles was appointed in May of 2013 to fill Wendy’s role. A graduate of CSULB and with a Master’s Degree in Non-Profit Management and Social Policy from Brandeis University, Kathryn has been in her role for seven years. Using her experience with three previous non-profit agencies, she was able to position JFCS to weather the end of the storm of the Great Recession.
Although the funding tightrope is perpetual for most non-profits, Kathryn, a committed board of directors, and the JFCS team are dedicated to four pillars that will lead to sustainability for the agency–program excellence, diversified development, impactful alliances with other agencies and service providers, and effective governance that includes recruiting passionate board members and volunteers.
Today, Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Long Beach has grown to a current budget of just over $1 million, due to its commitment to meeting the needs of the community and to the many generous donors who have believed in its vision of “a community healed, one person, one family at a time.”