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‘Don’t Try to Work Alone’

Maureen Forman, LCSW, Executive Director, Jewish Family Service of the Desert, discusses the community service work that feeds her need for social justice and equality. She also has som

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Maureen Forman, LCSW, Executive Director, Jewish Family Service of the Desert, discusses the community service work that feeds her need for social justice and equality. She also has some advice for those who want to help their own communities.

What inspired you to do this kind of work?

I was raised in a family that stressed the importance of fighting for social justice and insuring the rights of those that may not be able to advocate for themselves. My life in social work has been a perfect blend of direct community action, personal relationships with my clients and theoretical knowledge. Now, as an executive director, I am able to affect the outcomes in the lives of hundreds of people by program and policy innovations ... it just doesn't get better than that!

What are your favorite success stories that exemplify the work your organization does?

Jewish Family Service of the Desert is a critical resource that provides low- and no-cost social services to people in need in the Coachella Valley, regardless of religion, age, income, ethnicity or lifestyle. Our counselors identify and treat behavioral and emotional issues that present barriers to learning and social interaction. Here’s just one example:

Manuel (I’ve changed his name to protect his identity), 11, was referred to our school-based counseling program, KidsFirst, because he was exhibiting disrespectful behavior toward teachers. He was continually irritable at school, not handing in his homework, made inappropriate comments and stated that he wanted to go to juvenile hall. Working with his counselor, Manuel identified that he was having difficulties at home, where he resides with his mother, his grandmother, and his grandmother's male children who are not much older than Manuel.

He expressed his feeling that his uncles were treated more favorably by his grandmother, and that at times, his uncles bullied him. He was angry at his grandmother for playing favorites and for doing nothing about his uncles' behavior towards him. He was angry at his mother for not protecting him. Manuel worked with his counselor to set goals, including learning to manage his anger differently and learning to verbalize his thoughts and feelings in a more socially appropriate manner.

Manuel met weekly with his counselor for several weeks in individual sessions at school. At the end of the school year, Manuel's teacher shared with the counselor that Manuel was his most improved student. The teacher announced this at Manuel's graduation. 

3. What's your advice to others who want to help to improve the health of the community but don't know where to start?

When in doubt, volunteer! The agencies in your community have already identified many of the problems that need attention and may already be on the road to solving some of them. Don't try to work alone. Find like-minded people and organizations, be flexible and willing to learn, and you can't go wrong!

Kaiser Permanente Southern California Community Benefit is a proud supporter of Jewish Family Service of the Desert.