As detailed in Part I of this story, our own Debbie Whitehill and three JF&CS Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms® volunteers traveled to Dnipro, Ukraine, for four days in November. The Rubin Visiting Moms conducted a training with members of Dnipro’s Mentor Moms program, which is modeled after our own Visiting Moms program.
While meeting the Mentor Moms was the focal point of their trip, the Rubin Visiting Moms also had the chance to visit a number of organizations in Dnipro that receive support from Combined Jewish Philanthropy’s Dnipro Kehillah Project (DKP) and, in some cases, from JF&CS as well.
Touring Schools and a Medical Center
On their first day in Dnipro, Debbie Whitehill, Marlene Bohn, Suzie Cheatham and Yvonne Sacks visited a highly ranked public school where CJP funds breakfast and lunch for the students. The majority of the students are Jewish and from low-income families. As Marlene noted, “A full stomach makes a big difference in a child’s ability to learn.”
Next, the Rubin Visiting Moms toured another school in Dnipro that provides services for children with special needs, including autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and hearing disabilities. CJP brought teachers from this school to Boston for a month of further education in special needs. JF&CS helped to build Dnipro’s Special Needs Education Resource Center, a groundbreaking program that provides education, family support and specialized medical consultation services to children with special needs and their families.
At the Jewish Medical Center in Dnipro, the JF&CS delegation saw the dichotomy between the old, crumbling section of the clinic and the building’s new, modern wing. “In Dnipro, most people go without vaccines because they don’t trust vaccinations manufactured in the country,” said Marlene. “At the Jewish Medical Center, vaccines are purchased outside of the country and the director and his family get vaccinated on TV and on social media to show that they are safe.”
Beit Barcuch and a Warm House
The Rubin Visiting Moms also saw what life is like for older adults in Dnipro. The JF&CS contingent visited Beit Baruch, the only Jewish senior home in the entire former Soviet Union. Heavily subsidized by the Greater Boston Jewish community, Beit Baruch is modeled after Hebrew SeniorLife, the Massachusetts-based senior living communities. In 2010, Marsha Frankel, the now-retired clinical director of JF&CS Senior Services, visited Beit Baruch to provide direct training and support to the staff to improve the quality of life for residents.
Many older adults in Dnipro struggle to live on their pension of $70-$80 a month. The “Warm House” program seeks to help seniors by facilitating monthly group dinners. Volunteers host five to six other older adults in their apartments and receive a stipend from CJP to prepare a meal with their guests. The Rubin Visiting Moms attended a Warm House dinner where they met a group of retired women who had worked in a range of professions, including an engineer, an economist and a physicist.
“The Warm House visit was moving,” shared Suzie. “The women were so warm, welcoming and generous. Like Abraham, they shared the little they had with open hearts. It’s a program that could be of value in so many places.” Interestingly, JF&CS Aging Well at Home launched a similar Warm House program in Brookline to help older adults build and strengthen connections with one another.
Although their trip was brief, members of the JF&CS contingent were deeply affected by their firsthand look at the impact of DKP programs in Dnipro. “Learning about all of the work that is being done both internally and externally for and by this small Ukrainian community is incredibly touching,” said Yvonne. “I am immensely proud that my Greater Boston Jewish community is providing the money and loving care for so much in Dnipro.”