Program Helps Survivors Realize Learning Never Ends

A beautiful vision was not only realized but exceeded recently when 92 Holocaust survivors graduated from a program that brought the world to their doorstep through the use of technology. Now confident iPad users, these graduates can video chat with distant family members; take photos; send emails; listen to music from their youth; watch movies, read books or check the news in their native language; or simply search the internet. 


The project’s official name: Tablets and Technology: Alleviating Isolation in Holocaust Survivors, was adapted from evidence-based programs from around the country, and made possible by a grant from the Jewish Federations of North America. Once funding was secure, Edie Dine, Program Specialist, and Elena Itenberg, Technology Program Specialist, at the Jewish Family Service Center for Holocaust Survivors, took the lead in developing the program, making it specific to the Cincinnati community, and expanding on other innovative research going on at the time.  


 “As part of the grant, we needed to establish a goal of how many people who started the program would finish it, so we predicted 85 percent” recalled Edie, thinking back to the application process. “But, much to our happy surprise, 100 percent of the participants who started the program completed it successfully!” One of the graduates summed up her experience this way: “This program gives me hope and the feeling that I still have a lot to learn and look forward to. All of my life is not behind me.”


The program was designed to teach survivors using a person-centered, trauma-informed care (PCTI) approach to learning. JFS Cincinnati is one of a select group of organizations to receive this PCTI funding through the Jewish Federations of North America’s Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care, which was launched following a special award from the US Department of Health and Human Services. 


PCTI care accounts for, and incorporates, awareness of past trauma into the procedures of every interaction. Each teacher was introduced to their “student” ahead of time, and all training took place in the controlled comfort of a survivor’s home. In addition, Elena translated every component of the teaching (including software) into Russian to accommodate survivors whose first language is Russian. 


Of the 92 graduates who started and completed the basic program, 14 were motivated enough to continue further and complete the advanced program. A few graduates even chose to share their knowledge back with the program, by volunteering as teachers. This kind of enthusiasm was reflective of the project’s overarching success. 


“I can’t say or stress enough: the success of this program would not have been possible without the 45 volunteers who willingly gave their time and expertise,” Edie said. “We had teenagers—parents volunteering with their teenage children—and family members of our participants volunteering. Many of the volunteers spoke and taught in Russian, and several were grandchildren of survivors themselves. The volunteers’ dedication, professionalism, and enthusiasm were extraordinary,” she added.


Indeed, the volunteers were critical, as the program was carefully created to give each participant undivided attention. “We designed the program to teach one-on-one, as opposed to a classroom setting,” Edie said, “so we really needed a lot of volunteers.” The training sessions occurred once a week, and each lasted about an hour. In addition to the one-on-one sessions, there were celebratory welcome and graduation events, which were attended by the participants, volunteers, and program leaders. 


Although the grant that made Tablets & Technology possible has now ended, the program will continue in a variety of ways. Since each and every graduate gets to keep the iPad they were trained on, the wonderful world that has been opened up for them will always be accessible. The Center for Holocaust Survivors’ staff will continue to offer “Tablet Consultations” by appointment, and the advanced tablet training program will still be available. But perhaps the most exciting way the Cincinnati model will live on is that the program has directly inspired a number of other Jewish Family Service organizations across the country to duplicate it in their own communities!


Tablets & Technology is supported by a grant from the JFNA Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care. Social services for Jewish Nazi victims have been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.