When Bris Avrohom was founded in 1979 to meet the needs of Russian Jewish immigrants, the intention was "to take care of them from bris to burial," said Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky, director of the group’s center in Hillside, Cong. Shomrei Torah Ohel Yosef Yitzchok. With facilities in Hillside, Fair Lawn, Jersey City, and Old Bridge, "we have served over ‘8,000 people so far," he said.
To aid the group in its efforts, in ‘006 the Bergen County Division of Community Development awarded Bris Avrohom a $’8,000 grant for its ESL, Inc. Youth Program, serving between 80 and 90 children between the ages of 5 and 15.
"The people we help work hard," said Kanelsky. "We provide programs in the afternoon and on Sundays to help their children be in a supportive atmosphere."
The youth program, an extension of the ESL program offered to adults, is part of an effort "to make their acculturation simple and meaningful," said Bergen County Freeholder Bernadette McPherson, who recently visited the Fair Lawn center, together with other members of the Board of Freeholders, to see how grant monies had been spent. "We are proud to support the Bris Avrohom Youth Program in its commitment to better the lives of our residents from the former Soviet Union by meeting the needs of their children."
"Our relationship with the board is very fine," said Kanelsky. "It is of the highest level." He noted that the monies provided by the county helped the group build a playground in Fair Lawn and pay for teachers and programs for the organization’s youth program.
Wendy Martinez, spokesperson for the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders, pointed out that "the board stands ready to award grants to communal organizations that can demonstrate that the funds will be used to improve the quality of life of the community."
Over the past five years, two additional Jewish organizations have received grants from the Bergen County Division of Community Development. The Fair Lawn Jewish Community Council was awarded monies for its meals on wheels program, while the National Council of Jewish Women got funds to combat domestic violence.
The grants are "a way of giving back to the community," said Martinez, who pointed out that, on average, the board receives about 500 grant applications. For the fiscal year ‘008, some $11.’ million was awarded.
"We’re very diverse in terms of what we fund," she said, noting that each municipality and agency can apply for grants for up to three projects. This year, the board gave 7′ grants to agencies, with the rest going to municipalities.
Organizations must demonstrate "that they have a track record and detail their goals," said Martinez, acknowledging that very small organizations might be deterred from applying by not having the necessary staff to fill out the required forms. In addition, recipients are required to follow up with progress reports.
She noted that the board holds a one-day seminar each June to make community agencies aware of the grants and, if necessary, help with the application process. Organizations that have applied previously are automatically invited. Other interested agencies can receive invitations by calling the board.
Martinez pointed out that organizations may also receive grants under the Open Space program to preserve historic buildings or areas. "For example," she said, "if a synagogue was to find a Jewish historical home built by pioneers of the community and wanted to preserve it as a mini-museum, they could apply and get the necessary support."
To find out more about community development block grants, call (’01) 336-7’00.