Formed in 1936 by refugees from Nazi Germany, Selfhelp Community Services had the initial goal of helping Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany to rebuild their lives through job training and providing homes. Years later, Selfhelp built its first apartment building in Flushing, Queens in 1964, providing housing for 200 Holocaust survivors. This was the first state-aided project to be built in New York by a nonprofit organization.
Today, through Selfhelp Realty Group | The Melamid Institute of Affordable Housing, named in honor of Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Ilse Melamid, Selfhelp owns and operates 17 affordable housing buildings for older adults. Additionally, four new projects are under construction and in development, which will allow Selfhelp to provide safe and affordable housing for even more older New Yorkers.
Selfhelp has over 1,700 employees who provide comprehensive services including affordable housing, home health care and social services to 25,000 older adults in New York City and Long Island. And Selfhelp still assists over 5,400 elderly Holocaust survivors. Selfhelp Community Services operates the oldest and largest program providing comprehensive services to Holocaust survivors in North America. They are provided with enhanced case management, subsidized home care, emergency financial assistance, social programs, financial management and more.
A network agency of UJA-Federation New York since 1983, Selfhelp is the recipient of generous funding and program grants through the UJA-Federation of New York. Funding and grants include critical support for Selfhelp’s Holocaust Survivor program, Witness Theater, case management programs, a virtual senior center and a multitude of essential organizational services.
Selfhelp Community Services also receives support from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). Over the years, JFNA’s generous support has enabled Selfhelp to develop outreach campaigns, create virtual communities, enhance pastoral care, expand the organization’s work with survivors from the former Soviet Union, and bring Witness Theater to new populations. JFNA and the Center on Holocaust Survivor Care and Institute on Aging and Trauma support new and innovative programming at Selfhelp. Thisenhances Selfhelp’s provision of person-centered, trauma-informed care not only to Selfhelp’s Holocaust Survivor Program but to all of Selfhelp’s clients.
Selfhelp is also a recipient of generous funding from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference). Partnerships with these Jewish organizations have allowed Selfhelp to work with a large network to meet critical needs for care.
“The Claims Conference has partnered with Selfhelp to support Holocaust survivors since the 1950s,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference. “Our mutual mission to ensure Holocaust survivors are cared for has been the foundation of our long and successful relationship and was a critical factor in the care provided to survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to support agency partners like Selfhelp and—during challenges like the pandemic—we will again lean into our established channels and networks to ensure the resources are available for both day-to-day and crisis-specific programs.”
“Selfhelp has always appreciated support from UJA-Federation of New York, the Claims Conference and the Jewish Federations of North America, whose partnerships have sustained our work,” said Aubrey Jacobs, managing director, Selfhelp Community Services Holocaust Survivor Program. “During the COVID pandemic crisis, they increased their support for survivors, ensuring that their physical, mental and emotional health was a priority. We are thankful to JFNA for their support in reaching socially isolated survivors who would benefit from joining our Virtual Senior Center. We are very grateful that UJA-Federation of New York and Claims Conference supported various initiatives, from transportation to vaccine appointments to increasing access to the Virtual Senior Center to emergency financial assistance to the creation of pop-up sites for survivors to obtain vaccines around the city when they were hard to come by, with assistance from Mayor DeBlasio’s office and more, we are grateful for their partnership and ongoing support
Hanan Simhon, vice president, Selfhelp Community Services Holocaust Survivor Program, said: “The pandemic caused stress, isolation and uncertainty, and we were very aware of how it was impacting the most vulnerable among us: Holocaust survivors. Our social workers, trained in personal-centered trauma-informed care, provided our enhanced case management remotely and increased wellness calls to help survivors feel connected and not alone. The strong relationships we have with our clients, which are based on mutual trust, allowed us to support clients during the difficult months of the pandemic.”
Selfhelp uses an innovative model of care in their affordable housing buildings called SHASAM (Selfhelp Active Services for Aging Model). This model recognizes that social determinants of health have an impact on physical, mental and emotional health. SHASAM provides an on-site social worker to provide assistance if needed by the residents. From their earliest days in building affordable housing for Holocaust survivors, Selfhelp has recognized the benefit of having convenient and nearby access to social services. An on-site social worker provides wellness-promoting activities and supports social determinants of health, including but not limited to access to food, stable finances, reducing social isolation and access to health care. These services are shown to improve the overall health of the residents.
Selfhelp’s recent White Paper examines SHASAM during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report shares their best practices, experiences and lessons learned. “We Are Their Trusted Partners” offers insights for other nonprofits serving vulnerable populations during a crisis.
Some observations that Selfhelp wishes to share with other nonprofits to help prepare for the next emergency include the importance of having a cohesive and flexible organizational structure; trust between the social worker and residents; trusting relationships with service networks and advocacy groups; keeping the focus on client needs; adapting to new questions; following public health guidelines; having channels for regular, frequent communication; attention to the needs of staff; more communication than usual; and having skilled employees.
For more information: www.selfhelp.net
Selfhelp white paper “We Are Their Trusted Partners” https://selfhelp.net/we-are-their-trusted-partners/
Susan R. Eisenstein is a longtime Jewish educator, passionate about creating special, innovative activities for her students. She is also passionate about writing about Jewish topics and about Israel. She has two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.