Sometimes, you know when a decision is right — when, in fact, it’s perfect. Just ask Rachel Scheff of Wyckoff.
“Before and during covid, my mom and I talked to each other every day, and we were talking about my dad,” Ms. Scheff said. Her mother is Arline Herman; her father, Howard Herman, died in 2004. “I don’t remember the context, but he was at the front of our thoughts.”
The Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey also was on Ms. Scheff’s mind; since last June, she has headed the agency’s board of directors. With covid, the need for the agency’s services has escalated greatly, she said.
The ideas swirling around in her head — love of family, a desire to appropriately honor her father, and her recognition that JFCS could use some extra support — took shape, resulting in the creation of the Herman & Scheff Family Endowment in memory of Howard Herman. It is JFCS’s first endowment.
“The pieces came together,” Ms. Scheff said. “I spoke to my husband, Andy, and he said I should do whatever I wanted to do. Then I asked Mom what she thought about setting up an endowment in Daddy’s name. It took her all of four seconds to say that it sounded incredible –’Let’s do it.’ The next day we talked about what JFCS service areas to select that felt right to us; what would support dad’s legacy.”
Ultimately, Ms. Scheff and Ms. Herman chose the area of mental health.
As Ms. Scheff wrote in her letter to JFCS announcing the endowment, “My dad’s spirit is very much alive in this gift; his passion for kindness, philanthropy, and respect for all inspires so much of how we live our lives. JFCS’ mission to ‘enhance the well-being of all’ was very much my father’s mission as well.”
Ms. Scheff said that one of the factors in their decision was that treatment for mental health issues necessarily is largely dependent on insurance, because it does not get as much outside support as the other areas of service, which benefit from grants and donations. The family also discussed the idea of legacy giving, but decided to give “when you can see the benefit of your gift, setting it up now instead of waiting so we can see that our dollars have an impact today. I’ve always been told to give with a warm hand,” she said. “Having lost both my father and brother, we’ve had in-depth conversations about legacy giving, to carry forward their legacy.”
Joshua Herman died in 2005, and his family set up an endowment in his memory at the Washington Township JCC. The JFCS uses the dividends from that endowment for child therapy.
The need for JFCS services has “escalated monumentally,” Ms. Scheff said; while those needs have increased “across the board,” the most obvious need is for food and food insecurity services. The agency’s pantry, the Corner Market, provides groceries and household supplies to people in need. The JFCS staffs pre-bags food items; clients pick them up, by appointment, on a biweekly basis.
Seniors, who may have felt isolated before covid, now have even greater needs, and the organization has had to beef up its work in the area of mental health — not to mention financial help for the newly unemployed.
According to the agency’s chief development office, Michele Wellikoff, each of what she calls the four pillars of JFCS service is in great demand. In the area of older adult services, “We have served more than 780 seniors this year,” she said. “We provided seven nutritious meals a week to over 350 homebound seniors through our Kosher Meals on Wheels program, and we have seen a 30 percent increase in Kosher Meals on Wheels deliveries.”
For mental health, “JFCS provided more than 13,000 hours of clinical services. We currently serve around 630 clinical clients.”
Regarding food insecurity services, “Before the pandemic, our food pantry, the Corner Market, served 75 families. Today, our food pantry serves over 720 families, over 2,500 people.”
As for basic needs assistance, the agency has relaunched its career services program, serving some 120 clients. It also has provided more than 7,600 family case management hours and more than $150,000 in emergency financial assistance this year.
“By establishing an endowment, the Scheff/Herman family is acknowledging the success that JFCS has had, even though the pandemic, in meeting the ever-changing and growing needs of the community,” Susan Greenbaum, JFCS’s executive director, said. “Rachel Scheff has been president of JFCS for less than a year but has already made a big impact on the future of our agency and our ability to continue to serve our neighbors, no matter what.
“Rachel and Arline are role models for how to put Jewish values into practice, and we hope that this sets a tone for future philanthropists in our area.”
Ms. Scheff said that she’s incredibly proud of what JFCS has accomplished, and that “its dedication to the community we serve is unstoppable and unwavering.” She hopes that an endowment will be created for each of its four pillars. Up till now, much of the agency’s fundraising was event-based — but that model did not work during the pandemic. “This year we changed the model and started an annual fund,” she said. So far, it’s been successful, she continued, commending the “remarkable generosity of our board and of our community in supporting the annual fund.” She also is proud of the agency’s professionals. “The minute covid hit, they adapted all our programs,” she said.
Both Ms. Scheff and Ms. Herman stressed that they did not create the endowment for public recognition, but they hope, now that JFCS knows it can count on those funds, that it will help the agency continue to grow.
“I also hope that when people read about it, it may plant a seed in someone else’s head,” Ms. Scheff said. “There are a lot of philanthropic people in our area. We hope this endowment motivates others in our community to join us in this way, to advance the JFCS Foundation, and to provide fiscal security for the agency into the future.”