Written by: Betsy Price, Delaware Live 

The Brandywine Festival of the Arts returns to Brandywine Park for its 62nd year this weekend — Sept. 9 and 10 — for its largest show with 250 artisans and 16 food vendors.

The featured artist will be Edwin Lester, a self-taught painter who brings a sophisticated and technically advanced style of realism to his figurative and atmospheric paintings.

The Philadelphia native has exhibited in galleries and museums across the nation. His painting, “Worn But Not Out,” is on the cover of the 2023 U.S. Civil Rights Trail Travel Guide.

But the heart-warming story of the festival will belong to Oksana Pivush, a 47-year-old Ukrainian who left that country six months ago.

Pivush’s new life

Oksana Pivush

She knows little English and relied on the Jewish Family Services to help her settle into an apartment in downtown Wilmington and get a full-time job as a housekeeper at the Hyatt on the Riverfront.

She uses her mobile phone to translate conversations to help her cope with a new country, home and job.

Somewhere along the line, she told her JFS mentor Dr. Lanny Edelsohn that she made and sold jewelry in Ukraine and showed him samples of her work.

He took them to Barry Schlecker, who runs the festival, and Barry offered her a booth at the festival for no charge. Schlecker then introduced Pivush to jewelrymaker Faith Rosenblatt, who is loaning Pivush display materials to set up her booth.

Using short sentences, which are easier to translate, Pivush said Tuesday via Facebook Messenger that she is grateful to Jewish Family Services and Edelsohn for helping her get settled and involved with the Brandywine Festival of the Arts.

She’s always been crafty. As a child, her mom had taught her how to knit and crochet. Pivush grew up making clothes for herself and others.

Then Pivush’s own 10-year-old daughter bought her a book about beading and asked her mom to teach her how to weave bracelets.

“First I had to learn to do it myself, then teach my daughter, who quickly lost interest in it, ” she wrote. “I am very enthusiastic about this craft. After a while I started making bracelets from shoelaces and began to go out to sell it in my city. People were buying.”

Pivush became interested in embroidery and decided to combine microembroidery and knitting to make children’s toys.

“So my skills and hobbies increased,” she said. “I got great pleasure from the fact that I could do it and that people liked it. I started to improve my skills. After a while I quit my job and started doing only needlework.”

The town she lived in is more than 1,000 years old and the site of an ancient castle, she said.

“Near the castle I used to sell my handicrafts to visiting tourists and residents of this city,” she said. “My hobby turned into a small business.”

She was doing it for more than 1o years when the war with Russia broke out.

“Of course, there were no more tourists. People started fleeing the country, especially from the regions that were heavily bombed,” she said. ” There were only refugees in our town, mostly those who had fled to the EU countries. A very beautiful, rich and actively developing country began to turn into a depressing one. People’s incomes began to decrease sharply and prices began to rise dramatically. It became very difficult to live.”

Pivush decided to move to the United States. She packed a few essentials, some finished products and materials for her work.

“And I went to meet my destiny on the other side of the world, alone with a small dog, who is my friend, companion and psychologist,” she said.

Once here, Pivush created a new store on Etsy in hopes it would gain momentum. She had to get a job to pay her rent, which leaves little time for her jewelry and toy business.

“But I hope that in the future I will be able to develop my small business of creating handmade jewelry here,” she said. “I really believe and hope that this festival will help me move forward in this direction. It is a huge incentive for me to keep creating and making new jewelry.”

She puts a lot of love into every piece she creates, she wrote.

“And when people like it, when they wear it with pleasure, it gives me energy and I become even happier,” she said.

Brandywine tradition

Pivush will be among the painters, photographers, jewelry makers, ceramicists, woodcrafters and fabric artists from the Mid-Atlantic, New England, Virginia, Florida and the Midwest.

In addition to art and food, the event features music, children’s activities and pet-adoption opportunities.

As many as 15,000 people visit the festival, held every year on the banks of the Brandywine River.

The event is timed not only to mark the transition from summer to fall but also to signal peak season for home redecorating and the early purchase of holiday gifts.

Schlecker says the festival team has put added emphasis this year on expanding and diversifying food and snack options. This year’s offerings include Asian fusion, vegetarian, BBQ, soul food, chicken, seafood, ice cream, water ice, kettle corn, caramel and honey treats.

Musicians from OperaDelaware will perform on Saturday and Sunday.

Brandywine Park is at 1001 N. Park Drive, opposite the Brandywine Zoo. Free parking and shuttle bus service will be available at Incyte, 1801 Augustine Cutoff.

The festival will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 10.

Admission is $5 per day, with children 12 and under accompanied by an adult admitted free. Friendly pets on leashes are welcome at the festival and on the shuttle buses.

For more information, go to brandywinearts.com or facebook.com/brandywinearts.

Written by: Michael, Director of Clinical Services

Over the past decade, significant attention has been given to the topic of mindfulness. The Nations schools have developed mindfulness programs to assist students achieve. Mindfulness has made an appearance in the clinical world in the form of mindfulness-based therapies. However, the question remains, how does one develop a mindfulness-based practice and cultivate attitudes that are fundamental in the practice of mindfulness? Below are the seven key components that are the foundation to any mindfulness-based practice:

1. Non-Judging

When beginning a mindfulness practice your thoughts will wander. Many thoughts may flood your mind, such as future commitments, family, and work. That is perfectly fine and to be expected. There is no need to judge yourself for this. You are developing a “practice” and like any new skill, mindfulness will take time to develop. If the mind begins to wander, simply focus on your breathing as an anchor. This is a perfect opportunity to treat yourself with loving kindness and simply return your attention to the breath.

2. Patience

As is in life, things will develop at their own pace. Developing patience with ourselves and with our mind allows us to be open to the present moment. Enjoy the journey of mindfulness practice. We need not rush to the finish line. We are exactly where we need to be.

3. Beginners Mind

As best you can, view the present moment with clear eyes. Often, we allow our past, our beliefs, our expectations of what life should be, and our personal preferences to cloud the present moment. See the present moment with the eyes of a beginner, as if you are a newborn seeing the world for the first time.

4. Trust

Frequently our world gives us messages to not trust ourselves. We seek external validation and over time are taught to ignore our inner voice. Part of the mindfulness meditation process is to begin to turn inwards and trust ourselves and begin to listen to our inner voice. This process allows us to reconnect with our core self. A self that is often lost in the world.

5. Non-Striving

In mindfulness meditation one should develop an attitude of “non-doing.” This can be challenging. We are taught to have goals and that our actions should have a purpose and lead us to our goals. When we meditate, we need not strive for anything. We don’t need to strive to be a meditation master. The art is to hold our attention and awareness in the present moment exactly as the present moment is. Try your best not to shift to a goal setting perspective. Simply allow the experience to be as it is.

6. Acceptance

It is difficult to let things be as they are, especially if we are attached deeply to a different outcome. We may try to change the situation to be more desirable or to produce a more acceptable outcome. However, when we accept the current moment for exactly what it is, we are able to open up our awareness fully to the present moment.

7. Letting Go

During meditation you may notice that your mind wants to hold on to thoughts, feelings, and inner experiences. This is completely normal and natural. Part of mindfulness is to allow ourselves to not get caught in the cycle of grasping. As best we can, we can give ourselves permission to let go of these sensations and rest the mind in the present moment without distraction, attachment, or aversion.

Michael Angelo, LPCMH, CADC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health, serving as an Outpatient Therapist and Director of Clinical Services for JFS Delaware. His treatment approach is person-centered and utilizes mindfulness based cognitive techniques. Michael has over twenty years of experience working with individuals with mental health and substance use disorders.

As Clinical Supervisor, Michael leads JFS’ clinical team in group supervision and manages efforts to streamline clinical processes, trainings, and documentation; he is responsible for ensuring the quality of JFS’ therapeutic service to meet the highest industry standards.

Start your therapy journey today by submitting an online intake form or contact our Intake Department at 302-478-9411 ext. 306

Let’s meet Kathie!

Kathie is an Oncology Social Worker with Cancer Care Connection, an affiliate of JFS Delaware. She has over 10 years of clinical experience serving the community and supporting individuals and caregivers impacted by cancer and other life stressors. Kathie’s prior work experience includes supporting clients who are managing and coping with depression and anxiety, grief and loss, trauma, and adjustment to planned and unplanned life transitions. Kathie practices from a collaborative, strengths-based and person-centered perspective.

Why did you decide to work for Cancer Care Connection?

“After completing graduate school to begin a second career in social work, Cancer Care Connection’s advertisement for a social worker intrigued me. During my own cancer experience, there was very little attention paid to the psychosocial impact of cancer on one’s life. Later, while working in human resources, I witnessed the bio-psycho-social impact and distress that adult and childhood cancers had on my colleagues’ hearts and souls – whether they were patients, parents, family, or caregivers.”

What inspires you to come to work every day?

“My incredible colleagues and knowing we can provide a bit of relief to patients or their families and/or caregivers.”

What is the best part of your job?

“I deeply value the opportunity to provide a safe space for “unhurried conversations,” allowing patients and caregivers to voice their hopes, concerns, and frustrations to a non-judgmental professional. Witnessing the relief that listening, coaching about stress reduction tools, and providing pragmatic resources, when possible, is a privilege.”

What is a fun fact about you?

“I used to be terrified of dogs, but since our son came home from college with a huge Great Dane/Lab mix, I love them. Since then, we’ve had three big dogs. Exposure therapy at work?”

If you could go anywhere in the world for your next vacation, where would you go? Why?

“On a road trip with my bestie searching out independent bookstores, fabric and yarn stores, and Airbnbs near water where we can read, relax, laugh, and rejuvenate.

Why? Time is short and we’ve worked long and hard!”

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

“An English professor or nurse.”

What is one food you could eat every day?

“Embarrassing but true: Mashed potatoes – with butter!”

What is the last show you binged?

Ted Lasso – favorite line is “Be curious, not judgmental.”

What is the best book you ever read?

“Again, more than one answer! The Color Purple, by Alice Walker and Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.”

What are you most thankful for you in your life right now?

“In addition to my family, friends, and colleagues – being semi-retired and not having to rush in the morning!”

Cancer Care Connection, an affiliate of JFS Delaware, helps people affected by cancer navigate the full range of the issues they face, make informed decisions, and take action on their own behalf. Oncology Social Workers provide professional coaching, personalized information, and resource connections so every person affected by cancer can obtain their best possible outcome. Learn more and get started here.

We here at JFS Delaware would not be able to fulfill our mission to strengthen individuals, families, and the community without the help of our incredible volunteers. One of those amazing volunteers is Gail. Let’s get to know Gail!

Why did you decide to volunteer for JFS?

“I’ve never stopped being motivated by the idea that saving one life is the same as saving all.  In this instance,  I was inspired by my lifetime friend, Beverly Shreve, who found out about this need in resettling refugee families in DE.”

What is the best part of volunteering?

“The knowledge that you helped someone achieve something they couldn’t have done on their own….making the possible a reality.”

Would you recommend volunteering for JFS? Why?

“Yes! The need is universal and never ending and you can find a need that fits your time/talent/treasure/resources.”

What is a fun fact about you?

“I have four grandchildren and one more on the way and they are all right here in the Wilmington area!”

If you could go anywhere in the world for your next vacation, where would you go? Why?

Canada. It’s a bit of an inside family joke that I have never taken my children (now grown of course) on a trip to Canada, whereas they have been to Asia, Africa, Europe, Scandinavia, Central and South America…and mostly on their own!”

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

“A bank president.”

What is one food you could eat every day?


What is the last show you binged?

Jack Ryan.”

What is the best book you ever read?

The Man Who Was Magic, by Paul Gallico. Given to me by a friend in college, it made me realize that I really do believe in magic and often you make the magic yourself.”

What are you most thankful for you in your life right now?

“I am endlessly grateful that my grown children and their families and my mother all live within a 10-mile radius of each other. If there ever was a need, we could literally walk to find each other and be together, which I find importantly reassuring.”


Our work is made possible by dedicated volunteers like YOU! Volunteers supplement the professional, clinical care provided by JFS by fostering a sense of community, building relationships, and extending your skills and kindness to older adults, refugees, and other clients of JFS. Click here to apply to be a volunteer for JFS.

About JFS Delaware

Jewish Family Services of Delaware is a place where all members of our community can receive help and support to overcome life’s challenges and cope with difficult situations. JFS is committed to providing the highest quality services available in our area, with compassion and respect for everyone. Our mission is to strengthen individuals, families, and the community by providing counseling and support services, based on Jewish values. To stay up-to-date on the latest news from JFS, sign up for our newsletter by submitting your e-mail at the bottom of the page.

Written by: Jordan Gerecke, LMSW, Master Level Therapist

“What do you think happens to us after we die?” I ask my client, simultaneously curious and trepidatious. Death is a difficult topic for many of us, especially those of us who live in Western society, which places a taboo over the topics of death and dying. This very taboo may be arousing some discomfort in you as you read this. My goal is not to cause discomfort, but rather to challenge the notion that we benefit from avoiding thinking about death and to present an alternative in which confronting our mortality can lead us into living more fulfilling lives.

The Death Taboo and Death Anxiety

In Western society, talk of death typically incites feelings of fear, anxiety, and dread. In a culture that prioritizes positivity and feeling good, we tend to avoid conversations that elicit such emotions. Beyond this, our culture values youth, vitality, and productivity, which contributes to an aversion to aging and older adults, as we recoil at the reminder of the impermanence of these attributes. Finally, fear of death connects to fear of the unknown. What happens after death may be the ultimate question without an answer, which produces significant discomfort in a culture that yearns for certainty, whether through scientific inquiry or religious doctrine.

Why We Should Confront Our Death Anxiety

When something like death triggers anxiety, our natural response is to avoid the trigger and anything that reminds us of it. However, when we avoid a trigger, this only fuels the surrounding anxiety. The reduction of anxiety is rarely possible without confronting the very thing that we are trying to avoid. With certain anxieties, triggers are relatively avoidable and may never require confrontation (like airplanes, snakes, or extreme heights). However, death will inevitably touch each of our lives, whether through the loss of a loved one or our own imminent mortality, and chronic avoidance of death can leave us ill-equipped to handle it when it does show up at our doorstep.

What Does it Mean to Confront our Death Anxiety?

An acknowledgment of death and its inevitability is an acknowledgment of reality. Life, with all of its joys and trials, is limited in duration. We each are only given so much time on this planet, and we do not know how much time we will have. While it is natural for a reality like this to evoke some anxiety, if we sit with it a little longer, it can prompt a different response. If we can accept that time is a limited resource, this can drive us to cherish it even more and reflect on how we want to spend it. How do you want to spend your time? Are there things that you want to do more of? Less of? Are there ways that your life right now does not line up with your values, or the things that matter most to you in life? Are there changes that you can make, no matter how small, so that you can better live out your values?

Living Life Mindfully

Looking at death for the reality it is can not only help alleviate the anxiety surrounding death, but also motivate us to make the most out of life. When I discuss this with my clients, especially those whose lives have been touched by aging or chronic illness, I speak to them about striking a balance. We do not want to be so aware of death that its inevitability consumes us, poisoning our lives with anxiety and hopelessness. However, we also do not want to live in denial of death, as this can lead us to mindlessly move through the years, always assuming that we will have more time. There is a sweet spot somewhere in the middle, where a mindfulness of death can lead us to live more mindful lives.

My clients come from all faith backgrounds and belief systems. Usually, when I ask them what they think happens after death, their answers are not that frightening. They range from nothingness to reunion with family to oneness with the divine. No matter what they answer, I always take the opportunity to remind them that they still have time left before they face the great unknown. What do you want to do with that time?

Jordan Gerecke, LMSW, is a Master Level Therapist at Jewish Family Services of Delaware and part of the JFS Fellowship Program. She provides individual and group therapy services to clients experiencing a wide range of concerns, including depression, anxiety, grief, chronic illness, and caregiving stress.

Start your therapy journey today by submitting an online intake form or contact our Intake Department at 302-478-9411 ext. 306

We here at JFS Delaware would not be able to fulfill our mission to strengthen individuals, families, and the community without the help of our incredible volunteers. One of those amazing volunteers is Beverly. Let’s get to know Beverly!

Why did you decide to volunteer for JFS?

“I started by helping out with rides while looking into the refugee program. Watching the news nightly I felt the need to help out in any way I could with those that were having to leave their homelands.”

What is the best part of volunteering?

“The best part of my driving volunteering is meeting new people and learning about them and their amazing stories. The best part of the refugee program is meeting and finding out that there are so many people in the community that want to help. I have not encountered anyone who has been negative. When I mention a need or when I am with a refugee family at a doctor, social services, and various appointments, everyone is so helpful and asking what else does the family need. Our group likes to say that we have many “angels” looking over our shoulder.”

Would you recommend volunteering for JFS? Why?

“Yes! Helping others has helped me see the world from a different perspective. And helping
others has been proven to be great for one’s mental health, and who wouldn’t want that?”

What is a fun fact about you?

“I was a collegiate gymnast and growing up I participated in many sports, but my favorite was playing rugby.”

If you could go anywhere in the world for your next vacation, where would you go? Why?

“South Africa! Everyone that has been has said it was their best vacation ever. I am going next summer!! I’m just not excited about the long plane ride.”

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

“A nurse, but after volunteering in a hospital when I was 15 I learned I didn’t like the sight of blood. So I became a social worker and worked in a hospital setting for 37 years. I still can’t stand needles and blood!”

What is one food you could eat every day?


What is the last show you binged?

The Bear.”

What is the best book you ever read?

“I read several books a month since I retired and I can’t even tell you the name of the one I am reading now without looking at it! So I unfortunately can’t say my favorite book. I love all kinds. Joining a book club 19 years ago made me read many books that I wouldn’t have considered. and also enabled me to meet a wonderful group of women who are the women that are helping with the refugee family.”

What are you most thankful for you in your life right now?

“My family, home, and health.”


Our work is made possible by dedicated volunteers like YOU! Volunteers supplement the professional, clinical care provided by JFS by fostering a sense of community, building relationships, and extending your skills and kindness to older adults, refugees, and other clients of JFS. Click here to apply to be a volunteer for JFS.

About JFS Delaware

Jewish Family Services of Delaware is a place where all members of our community can receive help and support to overcome life’s challenges and cope with difficult situations. JFS is committed to providing the highest quality services available in our area, with compassion and respect for everyone. Our mission is to strengthen individuals, families, and the community by providing counseling and support services, based on Jewish values. To stay up-to-date on the latest news from JFS, sign up for our newsletter by submitting your e-mail at the bottom of the page.

Let’s meet Mary!

A lifelong resident of Delaware, Mary is happy to be doing work that she loves. Mary earned her Master of Social Work from Widener University, and her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Washington College. 

Why did you decide to work for JFS?

“Before I came to JFS, I had always heard great things about the organization, so I was interested in knowing more about them. Then, after I graduated with my MSW, I was really looking for an organization that could provide me with the most diverse clinical experience and quality supervision to prepare me for licensure. JFS’ Fellowship Program was the perfect option! So, ultimately, I chose to work for JFS because I knew I would get the opportunity to be a part of the great work they do for our community & also be prepared to be the best clinician I can be for my clients.”

What inspires you to come to work every day?

“I feel inspired to come to work every day knowing that I am a safe space for my clients to turn to when they need help or need someone to work through things with. I also feel inspired to come to work every day knowing that I have the chance, as a clinician, to change the way people think about therapy. Even if I’m working with an individual client, I can potentially have the ability to influence their friends/family’s idea about therapy and challenge some of that potential negative stigma surrounding it.”

What is the best part of your job?

“The best part of my job is building therapeutic relationships with the individuals and families that I work with. I feel really honored that my clients allow me to get to know them and their stories, the parts of them that are most vulnerable, or parts of themselves that they never felt comfortable sharing with anyone before. It’s a privilege and an honor that I take very seriously.”

What is a fun fact about you?

“My family’s nickname for me is Birdie.”

If you could go anywhere in the world for your next vacation, where would you go? Why?

“Italy – for the food, drinks, sights, culture. I had a trip there planned in the spring of 2020 but then the pandemic happened.”

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

“When I was young, I was obsessed with horses and cash registers. So I wanted to be an equestrian and a cashier. Dream big, ya know?”

What is one food you could eat every day?


What is the last show you binged?

New Girl for the 10th time.”

What is the best book you ever read?

“She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb.”

What are you most thankful for you in your life right now?

“I’m most thankful for my always supportive and loving family, partner, and friends. I’m also thankful for my fur baby – Tito. And I’m thankful that I love my job!”


Start your therapy journey today by submitting an online intake form or contact our Intake Department at 302-478-9411 ext. 306

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Caring for your mental health is extremely important to maintain emotional, psychological, social, and physical well-being. We asked some of our mental health care professionals why caring for our mental health is so important and why they decided to enter the mental health profession.

Michael, LPCMH, CADC | Director of Clinical Services

“Growing up, I suffered from acute anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. Things got really rough around the time I graduated high school. Due to these conditions, I was unable to leave my home for approximately two years. I was in a very dark place. Around this time, I promised myself that if I ever got to a place of healing, I would do everything in my power to help others heal.

After much encouragement, I finally listened to my family and sought help through therapy. Over time I began to heal. The anxiety lessened. My mood improved. I was leaving my home and interacting with others. At my last session with my therapist, he said, “Now it is your turn to help others.” I smiled and said, “My thoughts exactly.” This exchange has always been my compass. It has been an interesting journey. I’m blessed to be able to walk this path. Every day is a testament to healing and the power of human connection.”

Julie, LPCMH, CADC | Director of Clinical Services

“From ages 11-22 years old, I had been a mentor in various programs throughout my education. Being a mentor gradually led me to the path of becoming a mental health therapist. Mentoring can be life-changing to a young person and can be the only factor that helps them reach resiliency and overcome difficult challenges.

As a child and adolescent therapist, I feel that I can mentor and provide coping skills and trauma therapy in a way that connects my passion for supporting others and giving back to my community.”



                                                                                            Tiffany, BA | Family Crisis Therapist

“I decided to become a mental professional because I have realized the significant impact of mental health on society and the happiness that can be truly stolen from someone’s life. Mental health is important to general wellness. Mental health struggles are prevalent in young children and are usually never addressed. This leads to an adult who has gone years without addressing their mental health. I want to break that cycle and address mental health early on to give children a fair chance at life and becoming successful mentally.

Often times, students come to school with the troubles of life on their minds. They are expected to sit and learn but have no outlets to address their feelings and circumstances. I want to help children grow in all areas of development and work through their social and emotional concerns. The reward of working in this profession would be seeing some of the children I have worked with become very successful both mentally and professionally in the near future.”

Jordan, LMSW | Therapist, Fellowship Program

“As a young adult, I started to see the cost – in my life and the lives of others – of neglecting mental health. People were struggling all around me, and as I started to rebuild my own life, I decided to make addressing mental health the focus of my career so that I could help people who had struggled like I had. As I progressed through many, many years of school, my reasons shifted a little. I learned that I cannot actually “fix” or “save” anyone, but I can be there to support them, care for them, and give them tools to survive whatever storm that they are going through.

So, now I find myself staying in the mental health field so that I can help others learn how to feel their feelings, realize that they are enough and loved the way they are, and persist through whatever challenges life has sent their way to build a life that they want to live.”


Moon, M.S., NCC | Therapist, Fellowship Program

“In seeking to better understand myself, I knew I had gained tools to be able to create spaces and aid others in their own journeys. Sharing is caring!”








Susan, LPCMH | Therapist

“I was inspired to join the mental health profession through the teaching profession, working with children and adolescents from families with different dynamics that were detrimental to children’s development.”








Padmaja, LPCMH | Outpatient Therapist

“I wanted to enter the mental health profession to promote healing on an individual and systemic level.”








Caring for your mental health is extremely important to maintain emotional, psychological, social, and physical well-being. Click here for more information about our mental health services.

We here at JFS Delaware would not be able to fulfill our mission to strengthen individuals, families, and the community without the help of our incredible volunteers. One of those amazing volunteers is Ruth. Let’s get to know Ruth!

Why did you decide to volunteer for JFS?

“During a gathering of the Jewish Community Group where I live, we were asked if anyone would be interested in volunteering through JFS, to serve as an English Language tutor for Ukrainian refugees. Having had a career in education, I felt that I might be a good fit for this. Coupled with that feeling, I also had been thinking about what else I might do to help the people of Ukraine, in some way.”

What is the best part of volunteering?

“The best part of this volunteering experience are the tutoring sessions each week with my learner! She is a joy to work with, and I am inspired with each session by her high level of motivation and commitment to learning English as rapidly as possible, her pleasantness, sense of humor, and her fortitude!! I cannot fully even imagine what she and other Ukrainian refugees have endured, and the challenges they face adjusting to life in a new country, learning the language, while carrying with them thoughts and connections with loved ones still in Ukraine.”

Would you recommend volunteering for JFS? Why?

“I would highly recommend to anyone who thinks they might be a good fit for this tutoring project, to seriously look into it. From what I understand, there is a great need for more tutors. The rewards on a personal level for the tutor can be immense, knowing that you are helping out in this effort and getting to connect and learn from a person from Ukraine…. a definite “two way street”! I would add that, for me, the work is stimulating and challenging in a very interesting way! The support from Vlad from JFS has been great, as is the support from the staff at Literacy Delaware who train and partner in this program. Questions have been answered in a timely manner, tutoring materials are supplied, and I never feel like I am “out there on my own”. Also, my learner and I have opted to do our tutoring sessions virtually, and I am able to receive ongoing technical support from a very knowledgeable and patient volunteer from Literacy Delaware! More good news is that you do not have to have a teaching background to become a tutor for this program!”

What is one fun fact about you?

“A “fun fact” about me….hmm…people seem shocked when it comes up that….I was at Woodstock!”

If you could go anywhere in the world for your next vacation, where would you go? Why?

“I do a bit of watercolor painting. Some years ago I received a photo-journal gift and was inspired to visit the Tuscany area of Italy, and try my hand at painting some of its gorgeous landscape scenes.”

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

“A teacher, and thankfully that turned out to be my career!”

What is one food you could eat every day?


What is the last show you binged?

“I am not much of a TV watcher, but I am hooked on Heartland on Netflix! I enjoy the many characters, the natural beauty of the landscape, the family struggles and dedication to each other, and have even gained a new appreciation of horses!”

What is the best book you ever read?

“It’s too hard for me to pick a favorite…. but I am fascinated by a book I am currently reading entitled, The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia: A History and Guide 1881-1930, by an area author, Harry D. Boonin. It gives me some insights into what my family’s experience was in settling in Philadelphia during those years as refugees.”

What are you most thankful for you in your life right now?

“My good health, my loved ones and friends, my diverse hobbies and interest areas, and G-d’s gift of each new day with its many blessings!”


Our work is made possible by dedicated volunteers like YOU! Volunteers supplement the professional, clinical care provided by JFS by fostering a sense of community, building relationships, and extending your skills and kindness to older adults, refugees, and other clients of JFS. Click here to apply to be a volunteer for JFS.

About JFS Delaware

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On March 5, 2023, JFS’ Jenevive Newman, Director of the RISE Program, Vlad Cerbov, Community Relations Manager, and Sophie Namugenyi, Chief Program Officer, spoke with Lora Lewis of WJBR’s Focus On The Delaware Valley podcast. Together they discussed JFS’ work with resettling refugee families in the state of Delaware.

Listen to the podcast or read the transcription below!


Lora Lewis: And welcome to Focus on the Delaware Valley! I’m Lora Lewis and today we will be discussing refugee services here in Delaware with Jewish Family Services of Delaware, JFS. Let’s go around the zoom right now and introduce yourselves.

Jenevive Newman: My name is Jenevive and I’m the Program Director for the Refugee Program at Jewish Family Services of Delaware.

Vlad Cerbov: I’m Vlad Cerbov, Community Relations Manager.

Sophie Namugenyi: I’m Sophie Namugenyi, Chief Program Officer.

Lora: Would somebody like to first speak up and tell us a little bit about JFS before we even start.

Vlad: I’ll jump in. So we are a Jewish agency and that means that we adhere to Jewish values. One of these values is Tikkun olam, meaning that we perceive the world as being broken and each one of us has the duty to repair it. Having said that, our agency is 124 years old so we’re a really old agency considering here in America almost everything is new. So it’s always kind of noble for us to say that we have a wonderful, long history. And back in those days when the agency was opened, one of the reasons why was because Jews were trying to flee persecution from different countries, different continents and there was nobody locally here to support them and to provide services as refugees and furthermore as residences of the newly-established country. So therefore, Jewish Family Services was founded. Well since then a lot of things have changed and we have extended our work to provide services for all people, but in a nutshell that’s our brief history.

Lora: 124 years.. You work with young people, with the elderly, you work with people at all phases of their lives, and it has been a great organization. But you said something that’s really amazing there: they’re not just refugees, they are now new members of our community. And I think we’re touching there on what Jenevive does, refugee integration support effort. But let’s talk a little bit about who you’re seeing now, let’s talk globally first and then we’ll talk local.

Jenevive: Currently there are about 100 million displaced people globally. On a local caseload we have a lot of people from Ukraine and Afghanistan due to the two international crisis that have happened over the last couple of years… We’re also seeing people from Syria because of the ongoing crisis there. Also from Sudan and from the Democratic Republic of Congo and then from Latin American countries as well. So our caseload is kind of spread all over the globe depending on what crisis is happening at each point in time.

Lora: So you’re seeing people who are leaving war zones, you’re seeing people who are leaving because of religious or political persecution, is that an accurate picture there of who’s coming?

Jenevive: Definitely. So the UNHCR, which is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, defines a refugee as one who is unable to return the country of origin based on a well-founded reason. It could be some of the things that you mentioned: it could be war, political persecution, a humanitarian crisis. So people are fleeing for all kinds of reasons.

Lora: Are these people assigned to you?

Jenevive: So let me just take you through the process. When someone flees their country, as an example, when someone flees from the Democratic Republic of Congo because of the war, they will flee to a neighboring country and register with the UNHCR. The UNHCR will take them through a process of assessment to determine that they’re actually refugees. They’ll go through a lot of screening, both medical and security screening, and then finally they’ll be ready for the resettlement process. And then at a national level we have 10 agencies that do national resettlement. HIAS is one of them, they are considered our national affiliate and we work directly with them. So HIAS will receive the refugees and distribute their cases to local agencies. So for example, they’ll tell us that we have a family of four coming from the DRC and give us a little information about them. And then our team gets to work here in Delaware. We help them in finding an apartment. Before they come in, we work with volunteers to help set up their apartments, make sure there’s food there, try to set up appointments before they come. And then when they get here, we start the case management services. Our case managers meet them at the airport, pick them up and take them to their homes and help them settle in the first few days. After that, we help them get benefits that they are entitled to through the office of refugee resettlement at the state office. We help them apply for food benefits, they get medical, they get cash assistance for the first few months that they are here. If there are kids involved, we help the kids get enrolled at school. We’ll enroll them in English language classes if there is a need for that. We help them do medical screenings because that is one of the requirements when they get here. And of course, help them get jobs. The goal in all that we are doing for our clients is to help them become self-sufficient. They are not just here to depend on the system. The goal is to help them get on their feet, get involved in their communities and become good citizens. So that is the goal of the whole case management process: helping them become self-sufficient. We guide them through the process. Of course, we are not doing this work alone, we have amazing volunteers that are involved in our communities.

Lora: Vlad, do you want to talk about your network of support that helps you in this process?

Vlad: Well first of all, I want to start with our amazing team. It’s amazing because I get the chance of working in like a little UN office, because you have people as case managers from around the globe that bring their own experiences. So when you yourself went through basically hell, I would put it that way sometimes, because integration as a refugee or an asylum seeker is not easy. It’s starting your life from scratch and it is always very challenging emotionally, financially, physically. It takes a huge toll on you. So this is why I’m saying that our team is not only competent, but they sort of lived through that and they can have the empathy and better understanding of what their clients are going through. I’ve been working at the agency for nine months and at first when I was recruited I went to their website and I couldn’t believe that JFS is doing all this amazing work. And they partner with so many organizations: churches, congregation, synagogues, you name it. Often times people confuse, because they hear Jewish Family Services, and they think the services we provide are only for Jewish clients or you have to be Jewish to be able to work at our agency, but in reality, we’re very open. You don’t have to be Jewish to work for us you. You don’t have to be Jewish to receive our services. In fact, if we’re talking about refuges, I would say 99.9% of our clients are not Jews. And it sort of tells you about the commitment the whole Jewish community has about supporting refugees because historically our ancestors have been bounced back and forth. That’s why we understand the need to support someone who is displaced. And I have to tell you, it’s a sort of a two-way street. On one hand, yes, we’re offering fantastic opportunities for our volunteers to provides services and support refugees. But on the other hand, these volunteers are able to get a unique experience. They’re able to interact with somebody from a completely different culture and understand new things. So it’s kind of like an exchange that is basically happening. It’s a win-win situation, that’s how I like to see it.

Lora: Is the U.S. a welcoming place for a refugee? Are we prepared for them? Are we welcoming?

Vlad: I have to tell you that before moving to Delaware, I have actually had a chance to travel quite extensively throughout America and I also lived in Europe. I myself am coming from Eastern Europe, so I had a chance to spend some periods of time living in Berlin and Prague. And during that time, if you remember, we had a crisis with Syrians happening and I could actually witness firsthand to see how the Europeans are proceeding and supporting these Syrian refugees. And I kind of can compare it to what’s happening here in the United States, but what I’m going to do is I’m going to talk more about Delaware. Because Delaware is sort of a unique place, and overall there are many times when I caught myself saying such words as like, “Wow, I was never expecting that people would be so welcoming in receiving refugees.” Overall, the public is very open, they are curious, they are interested. They are surprised to hear the stories that the refugees are sharing with them. So I think if we’re talking on a personal level, on a human level, people are definitely open and they’re welcoming. Myself, as an asylum seeker, I saw how I was treated personally and I have to tell you that Delaware is an extremely welcoming state. I mean, on the political level, if we’re talking about churches, the social infrastructure that exists in the state is very welcoming. Again, not to mention the people. I’ve been more closely involved with the Ukrainians and often times I’m hearing stories. One of our first clients, she was telling me that she landed in the airport in Philadelphia and they were standing in security. She says, “My daughter and I both were extremely tired, we had this heavy luggage with us and one of the officers approached us and asked us to show them our documents.” So they pull up their Ukrainian passport. And the officer, his face changed. He said, “Oh you’re from Ukraine?” And they’re like, yes. Keep in mind, they’re also scared. It’s their first time in America, for some of them it’s the first time ever leaving their home country. It’s a different language, different people, everything is different. So she is cautiously saying yes, but she doesn’t know what the reaction will be. And the officer looks at her, like oh okay, and he basically jumps in and picks up their bags and says, “Follow me, follow me.” And he cleared them through security. And they come to me and they said, “This is what happened, this is how we entered in America.” And I looked at them and I said, “You don’t understand, not many people get that kind of treatment.” But they see it and when they travel across different parts of Delaware they see the support, the Ukrainian flags, the people approaching them. The other day I actually spent some time helping one of the Ukrainians open up their bank account and the clerk at the bank as soon as she saw the Ukrainian passport she was like, “You know, you’re supposed to bring this and that but don’t worry we’ll make it work, we’ll make it work.” And it’s because people understand the pain. And that’s one of the beautiful things about all of this. Yes, it’s a tragedy when you’re being displaced, but at the same time when you see the support that you’re getting from strangers in reality, you sort of believe in the humanity and you believe that nothing is lost. In spite of politicians and the wars and conflicts, people naturally want to show empathy. People naturally are kind. And if they are given that chance to demonstrate that, they will certainly do so.

Sophie: I wanted to add a little bit on what Vlad has said. We all agree that Delaware is an extremely welcoming state. We do work with Governor Carney’s office, we get a lot of support from Senator Coons office. So again, we work with our legislators to make sure that the refugees and migrants who come in to Delaware are welcomed and treated well. So without the support of our legislatures, without the support of our political figures we would not be able to do this work. On a national level, is the U.S. a welcoming country? I think we all agree yes, but we could do more. Jenevive referenced that there are over 100 million refugees, 100 million people displaced in the world and currently the U.S. accepts about 125,000 refugees to come in the country. So again, there are countries all over the world that are doing more. The U.S. is doing something, but we could definitely do more and welcome more refugees and people who are displaced.

Jenevive: To add to what Sophie was saying, last year the number was 125,000. Out of that, we were only able to welcome nationwide 25,465. So that’s just 20% of that allocated number. So we are doing a lot, but there is always room to do more.

Lora: So they are coming without adequate resources for welcoming them and many people are scared, they’re without their belongings, maybe they’ve never seen people of a different culture or language or religion. Is there set programming of care that they will receive?

Jenevive: So that’s when we come to the case management process. There are clear guidelines of what needs to be provided. We need to provide housing, and we need to make sure that they are employed, that their children are in school. They have been benefits through the office of refugee resettlement and food benefits and Medicaid. So there are basic provisions. But definitely there is room to do more. At an agency level, one of our strong pillars is mental health support because we do realize that is very crucial to what we are doing. Our team is full of social workers, clinicians, we have a strong therapeutic department and outpatient behavioral health department. So we are providing group programming, we are providing mental health support in a group setting. We are referring our clients to individual counselors. Most of them have lived through trauma and we need to provide that support. So as an agency we realize the need for psychological support and we are providing it. That’s one of the things that JFS prides itself in, we’ve been able to provide the mental health support for this population.

Lora: At what point do they lose benefits that they might be qualified for and at what point do they have to become self-sufficient and part of a community?

Jenevive: The benefits are mainly based on income levels. So as soon as they start earning, they begin to gradually lose some of these benefits. And that’s the whole goal. The goal is not to keep them on the benefits forever. Our plan is to get them employed, to get them self-sufficient. They do continue to receive support from us. The Case Management Services are available to clients until the five year mark. The state refugee support services program is available to them for five years. We usually do not see clients throughout those five years, most will become self-sufficient within a year. Of course, they will continue to receive support from volunteers. Most of the volunteers that Vlad is matching with clients become family friends. So even if they are off our caseload, they still have some people they can rely on. They can always reach out to us. Self-sufficiency is a process. Self-sufficiency is ongoing.

Vlad: It’s one thing when you find a job just to be able to survive and pay the bills and meet your needs. But our goal is always to make sure that they are able to thrive in America and that takes a while. It takes a while for them to get adjusted. I remember myself when I arrived, even though I previously had been visiting as a tourist, being a tourist is one thing but starting the immigration process is completely different. And I was lost. There were many things that people were expecting me to know, but I had no idea. And therefore, it took me years and years before I finally came to the conclusion, okay this is what I want to do in my life. And when this moment happens, it’s sort of like, aha. For me, that actually happened last year in November when I realized what I want to do with my life and that’s when I said, oh I want to pursue education and I went back to school. But you have to understand, in order to come to that point you have to listen, you have to make connections, you have to make new friends, you have to just gather information. And then you’re like okay, this is what I feel like I’m interested it. And that’s our goal, whether it’s getting a better job, whether it’s getting back to school, whether it’s establishing a family, or opening up a business. We sort of see ourselves as somebody who should be there for the refugees to support them and guide them. I wanted also to add, one of the reasons why we’re adding our volunteers and this is sort of like my intro and always the message. It’s easier for the volunteers to come with this perception that these are poor people and we have to help them, therefore let’s offer them all the resources. No, we want to explain to them that these refugees that are coming are adults that had a life in their home countries. They were successful, these are smart people. We need to equip them with knowledge and skills, sometimes with our connections and social capital, and explain to them how things work in the U.S. And for the most part, we don’t have refugees who say I don’t want to work, I’m going to be fine on the benefits. That’s a myth. No, everybody wants to be successful. Everybody wants to demonstrate to members of their family that stayed in their home country, that look I came to America with nothing and this is how I’m living my dream. And our goal, as JFS, is to support them, to understand them, to provide all the options and let them decide. And whatever they decide, we will be there for them.

Lora: Seeing them as a charity case is one myth. Do you have any other areas where you have to re-educate your volunteers or the organizations who are stepping up and saying I want to get involved? How do you get a volunteer up to speed to do this properly?

Vlad: Each volunteer has to do the onboarding process. And we have a fantastic way of doing that. We usually give them an online survey where we ask what kind of work they like to do, what’s their personal background, how much time do they have available. From there we do a background check and then they have to do training as a volunteer. So we currently ask our volunteers to go through four separate trainings. One of them is Refugee 101, in which they understand who are the refugees, why they’re considered to be refugees, just you know all of the background information that is necessary for them to know. The second one is about cultural sensitivity and this is where we try to explain to the volunteers that they are not there to impose their culture. You can explain to them about American culture, about the integration and assimilation process, but you also have to understand that refugees are bringing their own experience and culture. And this is how America was formed, it’s a melting pot. Everybody was bringing something that they had from their corner of the world, and that’s the beauty of it in my opinion. The other training we do, which is also crucial, is we try to explain to the volunteers the trauma that the refugees have undertaken, and what are the ways of approaching that and what is a good time to refer refugees to see a therapist. We also do provide social gatherings for refugees, in which one of the purposes is for them to meet and greet other refugees, but at the same time we also are encouraging them to participate in social group therapy sessions, which are conducted by one of the therapists from JFS. The last meeting that we had on January 11 with Ukrainians was very successful. Everybody was participating… And we also encourage our refugees to talk and share their cultural experiences with the volunteers. That’s what I was talking to you earlier about the two-way street. It’s not just a process where we have to educate them as residents or citizens of the U.S., but they also are educating us about their own culture.

Lora: If someone is hearing this and maybe they do not have the time to dedicate to training and working one-on-one, are there ways for us to get involved? Maybe other volunteer opportunities if I’m a business or I am a church group or youth group hearing this. How do we get involved with your work?

Sophie: Thank you, Lori. Yes, our volunteers and ambassadors can be involved in so many different ways. We do have different types of volunteers. We have people who just want to read to the kiddos or help kids understand the school system. This is a new family and they’re not sure how to communicate with the teachers, there’s always so much communication in the backpack. So there are some volunteers who we just want to be a liaison between parents and the school. There are some who do transportation and assist with them going to appointments or church services. And those are strictly just transportation-based volunteers. And then we do have others who take them to do fun activities like going to Longwood Gardens, going to the library. And sometimes it’s a one-time-only activity as opposed to ongoing. We are here to let you know that most of the volunteers, when they work with the families, they just bond with them and they always want to go back and connect and check in and support them. Even though we value the time on the volunteer activities, we also are able to take donations for people who may just want to donate or support families with us through financial support or different materials. Like we mentioned earlier, we do a lot of house set up for the families that are coming in. So we do get donations of well-used materials or toys for the kids, or clothes or jackets. So there are so many different ways you could find on how to support JFS Delaware and it’s all on our website, so please feel free to visit www.jfsdelaware.org.

Lora: And I hate to say this, we are actually out of time. Jenevive, if you want to start with some parting words and we’ll go around the room.

Jenevive: I just wanted to add to what Sophie was saying because she had mentioned businesses and other well-wishers in the community. Something that we are always looking out for is employers that are friendly to our refugees, and understanding that some refugees speak English, some will be learning English. And we are always looking out for safe and affordable housing. So that is something that is always needed. And my parting words would be that refugees are hard-working people. People have a lot of misconceptions about refugees. They are hard-working people, they are not here just to feed off the system. They want to work, they want to build businesses. We have a lot of success stories of people coming here and being integrated into the community.

Vlad: We have many volunteer opportunities. It could be a short time assignment or a long-term assignment. And if you even think you don’t have any talents or any ideas what to do, please feel free to contact me. I’ll be more than happy to discuss some options for you to help. And I just want to briefly say that we had doctors that were willing to provide free medical exams. We had one guy who was in finance and he was like, “What can I do, how can I help somebody who is a refugee?” When you come to a new country, I mean I am thinking about myself, I had no clue what a credit card and debit card were and what’s the difference. And these are the questions that refugees are asking and they need this training. Financial literacy is one of the big demands. So what I’m saying is, if you think you don’t have a talent or something to offer, talk to me. We’ll figure out something.

Sophie: So what I wanted to add is typically our refugees, by the time they come to the U.S., have been through an exhausting 18 to 24 month vetting process. It’s a long, long process. Some of them have been in refugee camps for years, they’ve had babies in the refugee camps. So they are so eager and excited to start the American life, just to work on that American dream. So again, they are here to be productive citizens. They are so eager to work. And we just want to thank the Delaware community. We just want to thank everyone who supports refugees.

Lora: Again, for Jewish Family Services. jfsselaware.org. Learn more about the programming that they offer for the entire community and of course the vital programming that they offer for our newest members of the community, the refugees who are arriving. If you have time to volunteer, they will train you. If you have a little time to participate, they will find a place for you. If you can donate, they do need supplies, they need goods, they need clothing, they need jobs, and they need your expertise. And again, find a place for you to help at jfsdelaware.org. My guests today are Vladmir Cerbov, Community Relations Manager, Sophie Namugenyi, she is Chief Program Officer, and Jenevive Newman, she is Refugee Program Director.