In 1957, Long Beach was a modest-sized city poised for growth. It was predominately a Navy town that was experiencing the fruits of the strong post-war economy, with new housing tracts, schools, and shopping areas that were being built on former bean fields all across the eastern part of the city.
There were three major synagogues, a Jewish Community Center located in a one-time store on Pacific Avenue but with well-developed plans for construction of a new building, and a Jewish population of about 2,600 families comprising some 8,000 people (according to the Jewish Community Council News) among a total city population of perhaps 325,000.
It was an enthusiastic Jewish community, many of whom were young families thriving in the region’s strong post-war economy. Nonetheless there were unmet community needs and prominent among them the need for a professionally staffed agency to address critical social service needs of the Jewish population. Fortunately, energized members of the National Council of Jewish Women were determined to satisfy that need and it was they who spearheaded the development of JFS of Long Beach. Working with the Jewish Community Council (the equivalent of today’s Federation), they succeeded. In January 1957, they persuaded the Council to authorize the establishment of a Jewish Family Service and on January 15, 1957 Leon Silverman, President of the Jewish Community Council, announced the appointment of Celine Marcus as executive director of the new JFS. His board, however, had given the new agency a mere six months to prove itself. At that time the Council/Federation structure was such that agencies such as the JCC and JFS were departments of the Council rather than independent entities.
Marcus’s charge was “to develop a JFS in the city of Long Beach for the purpose of counseling and assisting individuals and families with their personal and family problems, to give emergency financial assistance where necessary and to direct the resettlement of refugee families.”
It was no small challenge. But Celine was extraordinarily qualified. She had studied at New York’s School of Social Work, had extensive social work experience at New York City’s Department of Welfare, and, it so happened, was 2nd VP of the Western Region of NCJW. Coincidentally, her husband, Joshua Marcus, was Executive Director of the Jewish Community Council. To build a client base, Celine talked with all the Jewish organizations to explain what JFS could do. She wrote a regular column, “This Is For You” in the Council News and in her first column asked “What is Family Service,” which she then answered in one word: HELP. During the agency’s first three months she had conducted 250 interviews with 75 different families and resettled eight Hungarian refugee family units. By the close of 1957, 228 local families had come to JFS for some kind of help representing more than 1,000 interviews. The agency, essentially just the executive director, also provided emergency financial help to 33 families with grants between $5-$75 to 119 Jewish transients for a total of $3,785.
The following year, 1958, JFS incorporated as an independent non-profit agency with the officers and board signing the official Articles of Incorporation on April 9, 1958. The Jewish Community Council News carried the story as front page news, listing the officers, elected March 24, 1958, as President Mrs. Louis Hechtlinger, Vice-President Charles Litwin, Secretary Mrs. Leo Shultz, and Treasurer Mrs. Irving Schneider. The JFS board quickly took a community leadership role on behalf of needed mental health services in Long Beach and voted to urge the Long Beach City Council to appoint a Mental Health Advisory Board to plan for meeting local mental health needs – a recommendation the Council rejected, sadly citing the issue as too controversial.
During its first year, a JFS committee chaired by Alex Britton developed the agency’s new graduated fee scale: those able to pay were charged the full rate but the policy noted “as a community-supported agency we have a responsibility to serve without charge those unable to pay.” Further, only those receiving counseling services were billed. Other services such as aid to the aged or the unemployed, those seeking guidance with vocational, housing, or health issues, or refugee resettlement families were assisted with no charge.
January 1959 marked the completion of one full year as an independent agency serving the needs of Jewish families in the Long Beach/Lakewood area. JFS invited the whole community to celebrate with them at the first annual dinner meeting. The tab was $3.50 per person. Morton Gaba, new executive director of the Council, spoke on the place of Jewish Family Service in our community.
In March 1959 the agency began serving Lakewood clients on Wednesday mornings for counseling and related services in space provided by the city. Effective November 1, 1959, JFS was accepted as a constituent agency of the United Neighbors Community Chest giving it further recognition and stature in the community.
At the second annual dinner in January 1960, the agency elected Gertrude Ball as the first Honorary Lifetime Board Member. The following month, February 1, 1960, Bernard Miran joined the agency as the new Executive Director although the budget recognized him under professional staff as “administrator and social worker.” The other budgeted staff was a part-time secretary. The client base continued to grow with referrals coming from 16 social agencies as well as from local Jewish attorneys with whom staff had met to explain JFS services such as marital counseling and general family problems.
In April 1960 the agency extended its service hours to Wednesday evenings for the convenience of working clients. The new officers elected in January 1961 were President Charles Litwin, Vice President Sylvia Strum, Secretary Joanna Schaner, and
Treasurer Charles Savitz. The board had created a number of active committees: public relations, casework, nominating, board manual, refugee resettlement, fees, nursing homes, and budget. Among the new client services offered in 1961 were a therapy group for women having marital problems, (a group for separated or divorced women had been started in November 1960), a family counseling service for parents involved in divorce, and in June 1961 the agency started a therapy group for adolescent girls aged 14 to 16. All of these services were seamlessly provided with never more than two part- time clinicians, a secretary, and the administrator-social worker, from 1960 to Bernie Miran’s retirement in 1973.
During the decade of the 1960s, board members discovered how raising funds for the agency could be one of the year’s most eagerly awaited events, the annual Bar-B-Q garden party. The brainchild of Shirley and Harold Stein, they were the volunteer organizers, producers, and coordinators for the event that they moved among spacious back yards from year to year. What a great evening with fabulous steaks, all the trimmings, and a sense of camaraderie that truly reflected the “family” in Jewish Family Service.
Toward the latter half of the 1970s, the JFS board hired Amy Blender to fill the Executive Director vacancy. She took on the major task of building the agency’s full-time counseling staff to better serve the needs of this growing community. Until then, the staff was essentially two half-time social workers, a secretary, and the Executive Director. Filling out the professional team was one clinician trained in working with older adults to serve that increasing population and a position of Assistant Director.
The agency offices in a back corner of the Jewish Community Center were extremely limited. One important physical improvement was to create an entrance directly into the JFS area to help provide a degree of privacy for clients.
Another major leap for the agency in the early 1980s was the addition of the program specifically to serve children from all communities, not just the Jewish Community.
Taking the lead on promoting this program was Dr. Geoff Carr, a physician whose patients were exclusively children and who could recognize the imperative for children’s counseling services. His wife, Sandy, was JFS president at the time. Together they worked to solicit $1,000 contributions from a dozen donors for the first year’s budget.
The Soss family donated a house adjacent to Temple Beth Shalom, which served as the counseling center for the children. Somewhat later, the children’s center moved to a trailer on the JCC parking lot outside the JFCS offices. The agency acknowledged the new service by incorporating children into its name to become Jewish Family and Children’s Service and began its service to the larger Long Beach community.
In 1993, Judy Shultz, who had directed the agency’s older adult program, was appointed Executive Director and her priority was to continue the growth curve. An all-out emphasis on seeking grants to expand services and staff required bringing into the agency a professional grant writer. In time the success of that effort as well as the increasing gifts from the Associates campaign was reflected in a doubling of the agency’s budget from the $400,000 in 1993. Other innovations were the intern programs, school-based programs, and small-group counseling. The agency built a strong program for seniors including training students and interns seeking a competency to work with seniors. Not to be overlooked during the late 1990s was the excitement of planning the agency’s offices in the new building on the newly designed and built Alpert Community Center Campus in 1998. What a boost to staff morale to finally have the space and facilities appropriate to the professional quality of the services they provided.
In 2004 when Judy Shultz retired, the agency was fortunate to have its Assistant Director Wendy Puzarne ready and enthusiastic to accept the invitation to take over the JFCS leadership as its Executive Director. Under her direction, the agency flourished in several ways. She promoted a truly collegial relationship with the other two executive directors in the building – the JCC and the Federation – helping to foster the professional growth of all three. The intern training program, long a significant element of the agency’s academic outreach and of benefit to both the students and clients tripled with students coming not only from CSULB but from USC, Loyola Marymount and National University. Funding a nonprofit agency such as JFCS is like perpetually walking a tightrope. It was great news then when the agency won two major grants that helped not only with funding but also acknowledged the agency’s professional excellence. The United Way, which had shifted its grant making policy from a modified entitlement approach to a competitive one, awarded JFCS a three-year grant of $50,000 each year.
The agency also received a coveted federal grant for the replacement of all its outdated computers and the purchase and training for software to establish a client data tracking system.
Among other notable firsts for the agency in this first decade of the new millennium was the board’s development and adoption of a strategic plan setting out realistic goals and time tables for a continually updated three-year horizon. Also of great importance was the creation of a new staff position, Director of Development and Marketing, to professionalize the agency’s fund raising and help promote the agency’s visibility in the community. After interviewing a number of candidates, Executive Director Puzarne selected Janet Pottebaum to fill the position.
A third innovation was the appointment of an Advisory Committee of prominent community leaders to help the agency find effective strategies for building community awareness of Jewish Family and Children’s Service and the programs it offers.
The most challenging period to date in JFCS’ history were the years from 2008 to 2012. The Great Recession created a very difficult path for all non-profits. Foundations who had heretofore funded programs and services offered by JFCS and similar agencies found their investment streams withered and their ability to award grants at previous levels had eroded. JFCS navigated these tough times by focusing on fundraising efforts, seeking new grant sources for some of its programs, and bridging gaps using its reserves as a last resort.
Janet Pottebaum, Director or Development and Communications, retired in 2011, having established a basis for continued growth in the number and size of donations to JFCS. Two major changes to JFCS fundraising during Janet’s time as Director of Development and Marketing were the transition of “JFCS Associates” to “Friends of JFCS”, opening up this annual event from a membership base to include the entire community, and after 24 years, JFCS Athlete’s Fete, an annual children’s walk to help was changed to our current annual event, A Race With A View, a 10k event held each year at the beach.
In late 2012, Wendy Puzarne also retired as Executive Director, passing the leadership role to Kathryn Miles. Among Kathryn’s goals for the organization include expanding the organization’s reach into the community through new collaborations with schools and local agencies, building internal capacity to grow current programs, and establishing new funding streams.
Kathryn hired Pattie Davidson as the new Director of Development and Communications. With the generous underwriting of Linda Haley and Dr. Marvin Zamost as Title Sponsors, Race With A View continued to grow in both the number of participants and funds raised. In 2014, a new fundraiser, RUNWAY, was fully funded and produced by Wendy Manasse, a veteran of the fashion industry, and her husband David Wiese. This fashion-themed event quickly became the talk of the town and enjoyed sold-out status in 2016, 2017, and 2018, with all revenue for ticket sales and sponsorships coming to JFCS. In October of 2017 Eugene Chernoy passed away, leaving JFCS a generous legacy from him and his beloved wife Sally that was intended to help sustain the agency into the future. The Sally and Eugene Chernoy Endowment continues to provide significant funding to support JFCS’s counseling, domestic violence, and senior programs.
When Kathryn Miles moved to lead the Tichenor Children’s Clinic in Long Beach in 2021, the JFCS board launched a national search for it’s new CEO. Ironically, the national search led to a 25-year Long Beach resident Trip Oldfield. Trip was hired with more than 25 years of experience fundraising and leading nonprofit social service agencies in Southern California.
Moving into this year, JFCS is proud to have launched two new programs: Educational Scholarship, thanks to Daisy & Vic Schneidman, and Refugee Resettlement and Assistance. JFCS is opening a satellite office in Orange County in October.
Today, JFCS continues to serve the residents of Long Beach and Orange County, it does so with a real sense of pride among the past and current board members, staff, donors, and community partners. The agency and its one social worker that 65 years ago opened its door and its heart to those who came looking for guidance, today can extend its helping hands to the wider community with over 70 full and part-time counselors and student interns. Its first year’s budget was $50,000; today’s is $2.5 million.
JFCS was founded on and continues to exemplify the Jewish values of Tikkun Olam (heal the world) and Matanot L’Evyonim (give charity to the needy). Our open-door philosophy to a range of clients, from young children to the elderly to refugees, without regard for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or religion–continues to be the drive of JFCS Long Beach and West Orange County now and for years to come.