Rockland Jewish Family Services honors ‘unsung heroes’ of its outreach efforts

Rockland Jewish Family Services honors ‘unsung heroes’ of its outreach efforts

Agency holds brunch to pay tribute to staff members and volunteers

Brothers Braden and Thomas Czerwinski.
Brothers Braden and Thomas Czerwinski.

Kevin Czerwinski of Suffern was just looking for a way to help his son Thomas log required public service hours when he entered the Rhoda Bloom Kosher Food Pantry, a project of Rockland Jewish Family Service in West Nyack.

“A friend of mine volunteers there,” Mr. Czerwinski said. “He suggested one day it might be nice if I came over and helped out with my son. We went and fell in love with it and the people there and the work and kept coming back every month since.”

The food pantry distributes kosher food to needy Rockland residents once a month. Mr. Czerwinski’s work for the pantry extends beyond the one day of distribution; several times during the month he’ll make a pickup run for the pantry, from a supermarket or another food pantry.

Five years after their first visit to the pantry, Thomas is a college freshman in Massachusetts, but his brother Braden, a sophomore at Suffern High School, shows up at the pantry every month.

“Both my kids started out because they have to do public service stuff for school,” Mr. Czerwinski said. “That changed quickly. Now they go because they want to go.”

On Sunday, Mr. Czerwinski and his sons will be honored by Jewish Family Service at its annual Unsung Heroes brunch. (See below.)

Every year, JFS selects employees and volunteers to honor at its brunch.

“It’s our opportunity to recognize and honor individuals who work behind the scenes,” Maria F. Dowling, the CEO of JFS, said.

This year’s employee is Susan Conry, a social worker with JFS who works with older adults.

“She’s done tremendous work with Holocaust survivors and working with individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” Ms. Dowling said.

Rabbi David Berkman.

“She facilitates our senior advisory committee for Holocaust survivors. She works very closely with the food pantry, ensuring the individuals in need, especially seniors, are able to access the food and essentials that they need.”

Brenda Greenberg came to volunteer at JFS through her work at Rockland’s Department of Social Services, where she was director of volunteer services. Then she became director of Rockland Community College’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, and she volunteered to join the JFS Outreach Committee, which is tasked with overseeing the agency’s work with volunteers.

That was 20 years ago.

“The committee’s mission is to bring Jewish cultural programs to individuals throughout Rockland County,” Ms. Dowling explained.

That includes a Chanukah party held on Monday, which brings people from local group homes to JFS for an event with “everything from music and food to candle-lighting to celebrating ritual to craft projects.

“We had a hundred volunteers and guests,” Ms. Dowling said.

The committee also connects volunteers with people who are homebound, lonely, and looking for companionship.

It’s called the Send a Friend program and Ms. Greenberg is a happy participant.

“I have a relationship with a 97 year old senior,” she said. “I speak to her every day on the phone and we meet once a week.”

Music at Monday’s party was provided by the Temple Dudes, but a past performer at JFS holiday celebrations, Mara Lewin, is also being honored on Sunday. Ms. Lewin is a retired Jewish educator who led synagogue schools in Rockland as well as working at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. For years she has volunteered to sing and play guitar at JFS Chanukah and Passover programs. This is a logical culmination of her performing career, which began when she was a teenage volunteer, entertaining at Hadassah gatherings and singing in nursing homes.

Rabbi David Berkman leads the New City Jewish Center. He’s being honored for his work as a JFS board member.

“He helped us implement a program called Explore and Create, where we pair teens from local Hebrew schools with individuals with disabilities,” Ms. Dowling said. “They meet over several months and do art and music and theater and different kinds of creative projects together. It’s way of exposing individuals to each other. Rabbi Berkman was instrumental in getting that program started, about two years ago.”

What: Rockland Jewish Family Service Unsung Heroes Brunch

When: 10 a.m. to noon, Sunday, December 15

Where: The Rockleigh, 26 Paris Ave., Rockleigh

How much: $72

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