One of the Washington DCJCC’s oldest and most important programs is seldom seen by most of the public. In part, this is because the program doesn’t take place in the building at 16th and Q — it in-fact, pre-dates our move back to the building in 1997. The program is the Behrend Adas Senior Fellowship which for years we have operated out of space generously provided by Adas Israel Congregation with a hot kosher lunch provided daily through a third partner agency and the DC Office on Aging. Between 30 and 60 seniors gather daily for a hot kosher lunch — we provide the lunch for free although we ask for a $2.50 suggested donation for District residents, and $5 for non-residents. The meal costs somewhere north of $6. It is the only program of its kind in the District.
More than the food though, the program provides community, activity and intellectual stimulation for the seniors who attend regularly. Different DCJCC staff members lead the seniors in activities that include appropriate exercise, art, music and Jewish learning. A partnership with the Jewish Social Service Agency makes a professional social worker available on a regular basis and Shabbat entertainment is generously funded by the Adas Israel Sisterhood. One of the best parts of my job is when I get to go over to their Shabbat or holiday lunches and see for myself the friendships and vitality on display.
The program went through a mini-crisis this past winter when that third partner, as part of a reorganization, decided to cease its participation in the lunch program at Adas. It looked for a brief moment as if the program might have to close and the District would be left without a kosher nutrition option for low-income seniors. This was distressing not just because of the implications for some of the seniors’ health, but also because of the intangible value of the community that has been built at the program. Luckily, thanks to an emergency grant we received from the DC Office on Aging the program has been able to continue and looks likely to survive for years to come. But for those tenuous days when we did not know if the program could be saved, the magnitude of its importance to the seniors who use it loomed large. For many seniors, this is their only chance to socialize and escape the isolation that comes from advanced age and difficulty leaving home — particularly in the coldest days of winter and the hottest days of summer.
When you sit in an office, you know intellectually that your programs make a difference in someone’s life, but sometimes it is hard to touch that reality. Receiving the following letter this week, helped make that real:
attn: Board of Directors
1529 16th Street NW
Subject: My Letter of Appreciation
Thank you very much for stepping in and taking over the Adas Senior Fellowship when IONA dropped the group. As a participant of the fellowship, I appreciate your rescue very much! The JCC is to be commended for going the extra mile. Your wonderful center has created the possibility to keep the fellowship continuing.