Let’s meet Zach!

Zach is a Community Based Counselor at JFS Delaware, working with youth and their families in school, home, and community settings.

Why did you decide to work for JFS?

“JFS is where I completed my practicum for my master’s degree. I wanted to stay to participate in the Fellowship Program so I could receive help getting licensed.”

What inspires you to come to work every day?

“The ability to help support my family financially and to help support my community emotionally/mentally.”

What is the best part of your job?

“The ability to work with diverse groups of people.”

What is a fun fact about you?

“I am left handed.”

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

“For my next vacation, I will be taking a cruise around Scandinavia. My wife and I have already traveled through most of Europe and wanted to branch out to South America, but with the birth of our daughter, we thought a cruise might be easier with an infant.”

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

“Police officer.”

What is one food you could eat every day?


What is the last show you binged?


What is the best book you ever read?

“The Last Kingdom Series by Bernard Cornwell.”

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

“My daughter.”

Let’s meet Jordan!

As a Master’s Level Therapist, Jordan provides evidence-based mental health therapy services to individuals and families. She believes in providing a safe environment for each person to be seen, heard, and known and in tailoring treatment to each individual’s unique needs.

What made you decide to work for JFS?

“I started at JFS as a virtual intern during the pandemic as part of my Master’s program and later took an opportunity for a part-time position based on my positive internship experience. Since then, my role has certainly grown and changed, but I am grateful to have always been encouraged to follow my own career goals and passions at JFS.”

What inspires you to come to work every day?

“As cheesy as it sounds, I do feel that I am doing the work that I was made to do. It is not always easy! But every day I know that I am putting my skills and talents to use in a way that can make a positive impact in people’s lives. I also know that when the work gets hard, I can lean on my co-workers and supervisors for support.”

What is the best part of your job?

“The moments when I get to get a glimpse of positive change. Seeing clients apply skills they have learned and make change for the better in their lives always warms my heart.”

What is a fun fact about you?

“When I was a kid, I won the geography bee at my school twice. (Yes, I am aware that I was a nerd. I still am.)”

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

“Singapore – It was my home for a few years, and I definitely left a piece of my heart there. I would certainly visit more often if it were closer and easier to get to!”

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

“First an engineer, and then a filmmaker – I liked figuring out how things work and communicating stories, which, in unexpected ways, both connect to what I do today.”

What is one food you could eat every day?

“Rice. It’s extremely versatile and I somehow just don’t get tired of it.”

What is the last show you binged?

“Jane the Virgin (for the second time!)”

What is the best book you ever read?

“I don’t know if I can choose a favorite book of all time (there are too many good ones!) but a recent favorite would be The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.”

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

“Relationships. My family, friends, and community have been my sustainers through all of life’s greatest challenges. They are the ones who keep my life lively and fulfilled, and I would not be where I am today if I had journeyed alone.”

Let’s meet Becca!

Becca is a Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health for JFS, working with all ages with specialties in children, young adults, and families; additionally, she works with adults who are experiencing stress, life transitions, grief, and other mental health concerns.

What inspires you to come to work every day?

“I really enjoy working with the Fellowship program as a clinical supervisor and helping the next generation of counselors and social workers. The training opportunities, culture, and people I work with make my time so positive and fun.”

What is the best part of your job?

“I can’t say enough about how awesome the people (colleagues, fellows, supervisors, etc.) are within the Fellowship program. Seeing how much we all want to aid each other in growth and consult fosters a safe learning and collaboration atmosphere.”

What is a fun fact about you?

“If I didn’t tumble into therapeutic work, I would have ended up being a park ranger in a major national park: Living in the wilderness and protecting nature. Plus, I could rock that ranger hat.”

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

“Somewhere with mountains, sometimes Delaware gets too flat for me. Going to college and grad school in Pennsylvania up near the Poconos, you get used to feeling protected by the mountains around you.”

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

“A singer of some sort, I had dreams to try out for American Idol, or something equivalent. I was in theater, had singing lessons, and sang at family events or karaoke all the time as a kid.”

What is one food you could eat every day?

“Pizza, extra sauce, from a mom-and-pop shop. But only if it’s from Philly; no other style of pizza is as good.”

What is the last show you binged?

Alone on the history channel, currently streaming on Hulu. People survive in the wild, completely alone, through primitive skills and it’s shocking how long they’re able to survive. There’s 10 seasons and it’s been my binge throughout maternity leave.”

What is the best book you ever read?

“So a lot of my recent books are either for clinical training or baby 101 books. I think, when I was a teen, I remember The 5 People You Meet in Heaven being super impactful about our ripple effect and impact on the people around us.”

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

“I’m super thankful for a healthy baby as we continue through the sick season! Also, the support around me, like my family and friends, keeps me sane and feeling like myself during this new motherhood journey.”

WILMINGTON, De. (Feb. 14, 2023) – Jewish Family Services of Delaware’s (JFS) Care Navigation program was awarded a $10,000 grant by the Barclays Pro Bono Program.

The Barclays Pro Bono Program, run in partnership with Taproot Foundation, gives nonprofits an opportunity to access Barclays expertise, centering in areas of financial management, marketing, and data analysis. Over a 12-week timeframe, JFS was selected to collaborate with Barclays, with the focus on Care Navigation and expanding the opportunities of the program.

“We were passionate about telling our story and excited for this opportunity. Not all nonprofits are chosen, so to be selected and win the $10,000 grant is amazing,” said Latasha Coley, Director of Support Services.

During the process, a team of JFS staff members met weekly with the Barclays team within a remote/zoom setting and created a mission statement, identified the target audience, communicated the services offered, and developed a marketing approach. These components will have long-lasting impact on the organizational structure for the Care Navigation program.

“This was a great opportunity for the JFS program leaders to develop clear goals and plans with outside consultants,” said Sophie Namugenyi, Chief Program Officer. “Barclays expert team assisted us with the development of marketing funnel strategies so we can better reach and serve the older adult community in Delaware. We are excited to get to work and implement all the wonderful ideas.”

Through Care Navigation services, older adults and their loved ones can access compassionate, professional, and personalized care management services to enhance quality of life, encourage independence and healthy lifestyles, and ensure a safe and supportive living environment. In 2022, Care Navigation served 79 individuals and 99% of older adults reported increased feelings of being supported and reduced isolation due to participation in community activities.

“We are thrilled with the team from Barclays, and honored to have been selected!” said Renna Van Oot, Chief Executive Officer. “Thank you all for recognizing and enhancing the work that nonprofits provide in our community.”

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.

WILMINGTON, De. (Dec. 19, 2022) – U.S. Senators Chris Coons and Tom Carper and U.S. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (all D-Del.) today joined leaders of Jewish Family Services Delaware (JFS) and counselors-in-training for a press conference at the Jewish Community Center to celebrate $3.5 million in federal funding to help those counseling fellows achieve their licensing so they can work in the First State.

Through his work on Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Coons was able to secure the funding for Jewish Family Services of Delaware’s Mental Health Fellowship Program. The money created 16 fellowship positions for new paid, licensed professionals who aid anyone in Delaware in need of such services, regardless of race, religion, orientation, or identity. The Ferris School, YWCA, and Neighborhood House are just some of the organizations benefiting from these fellows.

“In over 120 years in Delaware, Jewish Family Services has provided a remarkable array of support and services that clearly shows their commitment and support for families of all backgrounds,” Sen. Coons said. “One of the things that is at the very heart of the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam is healing—not just the Jewish world, but the entire world, and to show an understanding of neighborliness that reaches out and beyond. At the very core of Torah values, of righteousness, is the mitzvah of giving kindness and support to those who can’t pay you back in any way.”

The delegation was able to nearly double the funds initially requested JFS by to better address Delaware’s lacking mental health resources. JFS at first sought $1.6 million from the federal government but eventually increased their request to $3.5 million in order to help a greater number of Delawareans.

“This is a big deal,” said Wendell Covell, Clinical Director of the JFS Delaware Fellowship Program. “JFS Delaware has a group called Helping the Helper, and that really means something to me because when you help the helper, we can help the whole community. Our social workers, our therapists, when the crisis hits, they’re the first people to show up. So thank you for helping these fellows, so they can go on to help others. These fellows will go on to provide 14,000 individual, group, and family mental health sessions, and serve over 2,000 Delawareans.”

Delaware has seen the number of mental health professionals decline in the past five years. At the same time, the demand for mental health services has increased. This project addresses the growing mental health crisis, rising demand for counseling, and lack of licensed mental health practitioners in Delaware.

“I work in the community with families, I work with individuals, and what is needed right now is compassion, is understanding, is people to provide services with expertise and without judgment,” said Laura Dickol, a JFS Fellow. “That’s the goal I see all of these fellows working toward, and it’s not just a two-year process. This is a lifelong learning opportunity.”

The $3.5 million for JFS is the second-largest amount of congressional funding secured for a program in Delaware this year. Monday’s event celebrated the launch of the Mental Health Fellowship Program, which got underway in part thanks to these funds. It also provided an opportunity to showcase some of the fellows currently receiving their training.

“We’ve got a big mental health problem across the nation, and part of it is that we don’t have enough licensed providers. This is targeting that problem, and looking to be a part of the solution,” said JFS Delaware Board President Peter Hurd. “We’re going to have to tackle a number of other hurdles, so thank you for setting us on a great path to start addressing some of the biggest.”

When you make a gift to support the work at JFS, you are directly supporting individuals who receive our services.

Individuals like Sasha, who was forced to flee her home in Ukraine and seek refuge and safety in the United States.

Please read on to hear Sasha’s story in her own words.

My name is Sasha and I am 39 years old. I am happily married and have a beautiful daughter who is 12 years old and is enrolled into 7th grade.

Sasha’s Daughter

My entire family lives in Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine. My husband works at the National Bank of Ukraine. I used to work at a prestigious Dental Supply Company in the marketing and sales department. All the adults in my family have higher education, predominantly in finance and chemistry.

When the war started on February 24 at 4 am, we woke up shaking because everything in our apartment was trembling. Later on, we found out that a bomb exploded just 200 yards away from our apartment. All the windows were bending inside out, and a neighboring building collapsed. 

Building Next Door

Despite the confusion and fear, everyone in my family was trying to stay calm and think straight. We slowly exited our apartment building. We lived on the fifth floor, so it was difficult to navigate the stairs due to the dust and darkness. 

We tried to find refuge in a bomb shelter, but it was locked! The next day, my husband cut the locks on the door, and we walked into an abandoned facility that was supposed to be a shelter. It was a miserable place, filled with puddles of water, mold, and lots of rats. But it did not stop us from cleaning it and making it a livable space to our best ability. 

Shortly after, my husband insisted for us to be evacuated, so I took my child and our cat, along with another family of four (mother and three kids), and drove several hours to a nearby village, which was only 35 miles away. The road was a scene from a Hollywood horror movie- we were witnessing burned and bombed out cars, and at times it was difficult to maneuver in order to avoid running over the many corpses on the road.. I still remember the airplanes that were flying and the horrible noise that they were making … It is a miracle that we are still alive, because we were trapped in traffic, and we were praying that a bomb would not fall on us. Death was everywhere!

When we arrived at that village we were starving and crying… an older gentleman who was blind offered us a small piece of bread, telling us that children should be fed, and he doesn’t mind dying because he had lived a long life. We stayed in that village for approximately two weeks before moving to the western part of Ukraine because it was no longer safe to remain in that village. 

Sleeping on the floor

It took us two days to get to the city of Ternopol (it usually takes three hours). When we reached our destination, we had to stay in a tiny room of only 30 sq ft for eight people! All of us, including animals, had to sleep on the ice-cold floor. I got very sick, but couldn’t find anyone to treat me.

After staying in Western Ukraine for about two months, we ended up going to Bulgaria. As soon as I arrived there, I was hospitalized and underwent an urgent surgery. My blood was infected and the doctors were skeptical that I would survive.

Again, by the grace of G-d, I survived. When I was laying in the ER, I remembered a story that my grandmother told me when I was a young.

My great grandmother was highly educated, which was uncommon back then for a woman to have higher education. When Nazis invaded Ukraine in 1941, her family pulled from death row two young Jewish people who were waiting to be executed.  

Someone found out that my great grandparents were sheltering Jews, so they reported them to the authorities and my great grandparents instantly became a target for Nazis. They had to flee and hide for a very long period of time. Nonetheless, they continued to hold true to their principles, and they were able to save another Jewish couple from being executed.

I never thought that I would be reliving the horrific realities that my ancestors had to endure. I am sharing this story because G-d has a way to turn things out in an unpredictable way. Who would have thought that after 70 years, my daughter and I would flee to Delaware to seek peace and safety?! 

It is an honor for me to receive services and much needed support from JFS. 

JFS has wonderful staff because they warmly greeted us and have demonstrated their kindness and care. It is hard for me to believe that there are people like Vlad and Rina, who are strangers to us, but they have shown their unwavering commitment to support us in any way they can.

I am so grateful that my daughter was enrolled into Friends School of Wilmington, and she is enjoying every single day meeting new friends and teachers. 

I do remain optimistic, and I look forward to acquiring new skills and knowledge that I can utilize when I return to Ukraine. I really miss my family; my father, who is 64 years old, is still fighting on the front and it is frightening to realize that his life is in danger…

I would like to conclude my story by thanking JFS from the bottom of my heart for the warm welcome and enormous support that we continue to receive. We are so lucky to be beneficiaries of JFS because you are making our lives more stable and comforting. Thank you JFS staff for being there and helping us!  

Through intensive, culturally sensitive case management services, our Refugee Integration Support Effort (RISE) program helps refugees and other immigrants integrate and make a home in their new communities, obtain and retain employment, and establish and maintain healthy lifestyles to achieve self-sufficiency. Last year alone, your gifts helped JFS resettle over 65 families from Ukraine, Sudan, Turkey, Syria, Cuba, Haiti and Afghanistan.

All this amazing work happens because of your generous spirit. Please visit jfsdelaware.org/donate to make a gift today.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (Nov. 28, 2022) – The Muhlenberg College Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding presented Jewish Family Services of Delaware (JFS) and the Refugee Integration Support Effort (RISE) with the 2022 Wallenberg Tribute Award on November 13.

For 38 years the Muhlenberg College Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding (formerly the Institute of Jewish-Christian Understanding) has honored the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat in Hungary who saved 100,000 Jews from deportation to death camps during World War II, with the Wallenberg Tribute.

The 2022 Wallenberg Tribute Award was presented to JFS’ RISE program in honor of the courageous moral action on behalf of others and service to refugees and immigrant communities.

JFS has a long history of advocating for and assisting newcomers to America as they build new lives and raise their families in Delaware. In the 1980’s JFS was instrumental in resettling hundreds of families in Delaware from the former Soviet Union and, since 1997, have been providing émigré services for refugees who have already arrived in the state. In 2016, we relaunched our active resettlement efforts through the Refugee Integration Support Effort (RISE). In 2021, JFS welcomed 68 refugees to Delaware.

The lecture guest for this year’s Wallenberg Tribute was Rangina Hamidi, an Afghan American writer, educator, social activist and politician known for her tireless efforts to advocate for the rights of women, girls and education in Afghanistan. Hamidi presented her lecture, “Schools and Madrassas: The Battle for Education in Afghanistan”, prior to the award presentation.

Peter Hurd, President of the Board for JFS, accepted the Wallenberg Tribute Award. Several JFS staff members were also on hand for the event.

WILMINGTON, De. (Nov. 11, 2022) – Jewish Family Services of Delaware (JFS) presented the Erica Wright Advocacy Award to Representative Debra Heffernan (D) and Senator Sarah McBride (D) on Thursday, November 10.

The Erica Wright Advocacy Award is granted annually to recognize a woman or women in Delaware who have demonstrated exceptional courage, resilience, and leadership, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Together, JFS and Erica’s family and friends share the responsibility for reviewing nominations and selecting this award’s recipient each year.

Representative Heffernan and Senator McBride were chosen for their dedication and advocacy of the Healthy Delaware Families Act. This legislation ensures that Delawareans have access to paid time off when they need to care for themselves or their loved ones.

Erica Wright knew first-hand what it was like to battle a serious medical condition while also being a mother, wife, and colleague. She also saw up close what others in her breast cancer groups faced without paid leave or support. The Healthy Delaware Families act will not only help future women like Erica, but also future caregivers.

JFS presented the first annual Erica Wright Advocacy Award last year to Erica Wright, in loving memory. On May 7, 2021, the North Wilmington community experienced a profound loss when Metastatic Breast Cancer took our brave, generous friend and fierce advocate. Erica was instrumental and inspiring to all of us at JFS and Cancer Care Connection when merging our two organizations.

The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and its Small Business Alliance (SBA) announced this year’s Superstars in Business award winners: Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Delaware, Action Unlimited Resources, L&W Insurance, and Schlosser & Associates Mechanical Contractors. The honorees will be recognized at an awards ceremony on November 2, 2022.

JFS Delaware was recognized for this award in the Nonprofit Category. Founded in 1899, JFS provides counseling and other social support services to individuals and their families. JFS also conducts refugee resettlement and other related services through the Refugee Integration Support Effort (RISE) program. JFS is licensed with the State of Delaware’s Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health and fully accredited by the National Council on Accreditation.

“JFS is thrilled to be receiving this award,” said JFS Delaware CEO, Renna Van Oot. “What we have to offer can only be delivered if we have the best talent providing the highest quality of social services, and we pride ourselves on finding innovative ways to meet the needs of the community.”

In its 24th year, the Marvin S. Gilman Superstars in Business awards program is named for one of Delaware’s most distinguished small business leaders—Marvin Gilman—who displayed the highest ethical standards, found innovative ways to improve the world around him, and inspired others to follow in his footsteps.

The program honors small businesses and nonprofit organizations for their outstanding achievements and model approaches to business and management. The awards are presented to companies that have been in business for at least three years and are small businesses based on the number of full-time employees.

Jewish Family Services of Delaware’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Karen “Renna” Van Oot has been selected as the new Chief Executive Officer. She began her role on July 18, 2022.

Ms. Van Oot was raised in Wilmington, DE and received her BA from the University of Delaware. She earned a dual master’s degree in Social Service and Law and Social Policy from Bryn Mawr College. Renna was awarded her Juris Doctor from Widener University School of Law.

Renna is a dynamic and versatile professional with over 30 years of experience in the development, growth and leadership of government, non for profit and business organizations. She has expertise in nonprofit management with emphasis on strategic planning and organizational restructuring and is knowledgeable in a breadth of nonprofit related issues. She brings a talent for building and maintaining strong business and community relationships.

Renna comes to JFS after serving as Executive Director of Family Promise of Southern Chester County; prior to that, she was the COO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region (Philadelphia).

Click here to read a Q&A with Renna in the July issue of Jewish Living Delaware.