Vital Support Center Grand Opening Celebration...

JFS opens Vital Support Center with Grand Opening Celebration

Shep Englander, Mark Miller, Lee Sherman, Beth Schwartz, Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Michael Oestreicher
Shep Englander, Mark Miller, Lee Sherman, Beth Schwartz, Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Michael Oestreicher


CINCINNATI What started ten years ago as a dream to provide a holistic approach to promoting wellness and recovery for families in need became a reality when Jewish Family Service recently opened its Barbash Family Vital Support Center.


"Today we take a big step forward-all of us together-as we begin a journey that will touch lives and change lives every day. Today we take a big step toward fulfilling Jewish Family Service's vision of leading our community to a place where everyone lives with hope, stability, and dignity," said Beth Schwartz, Executive Director of Jewish Family Service.

Schwartz's comments were made October 27, 2013 at the community-wide grand opening celebration of the Jewish Family Service Barbash Family Vital Support Center, located on the Clifton campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. With the support of funders and private individual donors, an unused campus building that had housed a swimming pool and lockers was fully renovated into the warm and inviting Vital Support Center.


“In a remarkable transition of space, the building now contains a beautiful reception area, private rooms for client assessments and meetings, a large activity room and kitchen, and a state of the art food pantry. In this Center, Jewish Family Service will serve hungry people, facilitate wellness and recovery programming to people living with chronic mental health issues, and provide case management services to people striving toward self-sustainability,” said Lee Sherman CEO of the Association of Jewish Family and Children's Agencies (AJFCA). AJFCA, which is headquartered in Baltimore, represents 125 Jewish Family Service agencies across North America.


The transition was more than that of a building; it was also a transformation of an agency. Over time, as more families in need were coming to Jewish Family Service for assistance, its staff recognized that a bag of food or a rent check was not enough to maintain stability. The new Barbash Family Vital Support Center is Jewish Family Service’s realization of the dream to address the full spectrum of hardships that accompany hunger and poverty- homelessness, fear, isolation, stress, and despair.


"Ten years ago we opened a food pantry in the basement of Golf Manor Synagogue. We are forever indebted to Rabbi Chanan Balk and Golf Manor for providing rent-free space for so many years. It was in this basement pantry that Vital Services Department Director Fran Gafvert began dreaming of a more holistic approach to battling food insecurity, poverty, and mental illness," said Schwartz.

Roxanne Qualls, Fran Gafvert
Roxanne Qualls, Fran Gafvert

Cincinnati Vice-Mayor Roxanne Qualls recognized the important role the Center will fill in our community and thanked everyone who made the Barbash Family Vital Support Center possible not just for the people in the Jewish community, but for all of those in our Cincinnati community who will find this a place of refuge, support, and help.


The food pantry is open to Jewish Family Service clients as well as all people in need who live in Cincinnati's 45220 zip code. It is the only food pantry in the region that also includes a section with a full array of kosher foods and meat.


The Vital Support Center offers a best-practice and evidence-based program. It is also the only place in our community that addresses the unique needs of people experiencing hunger, poverty and mental illness who desire to be served within a Jewish cultural setting. For example, Jewish Family Service clients can enjoy Jewish holiday themed parties, rabbinic support, and Hebrew classes.

The Heldman Family
The Heldman Family

Said Shep Englander, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, “This truly is a historic day because it is not only the day when we launch what will be a national model, but also the day when we celebrate a partnership and collaboration that is truly unique.” He added that the Vital Support Center is right at the heart of the caring pillar of the Cincinnati 2020 initiative to secure our future as a welcoming Jewish community that provides an exceptional quality of life for every one of its members. “The Center is a result of what has always been one of the core values of our community—caring for people in need by reducing poverty and isolation.”


Because of the unique collaboration of several organizations and individual donors, Jewish Family Service was ultimately able to bring the Barbash Family Vital Support Center to the community’s individuals in need.


“Here’s where the stars and planets all lined up for us,” said Schwartz. What had started with an original planning grant from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati (now called Interact for Health) grew to include financial support from the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, and several individual donors including the Bernie and Pam Barbash Family and the George and Anne Heldman Family. Finally, as Jewish Family Service was touring several potential properties, Hebrew Union College suggested its campus as a possible location.

The Barbash Family cuts the ribbon
The Barbash Family cuts the ribbon

The grand opening celebration began with a welcome from Mark Miller, President of the Board of Jewish Family Service, and Andy Berger, President of the Board of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. The invocation was provided by Rabbi David Ellenson and Rabbi Aaron Panken of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Following comments by Sherman, Qualls, Schwartz, and Englander, a video about the Vital Support Center’s development was shown (and can be viewed on the Jewish Family Service website The morning continued with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by Michael Oestreicher, President of The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, and the Barbash and Heldman families. Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Dean, Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR, concluded the celebration by leading a prayer as Fran Gafvert hung the mezuzah.


The video included this heartwarming comment from a Jewish Family Service recipient, “This is what tikun olam (Hebrew for repairing the world) is about. Just thank you from the bottom of my heart and I know others absolutely feel the same way. Just thank you.”


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Click the arrow below to watch the video shown during the celebration.


These before and after photos below show how a pool and locker room unused for 20 years was renovated and transformed into our comprehensive welcoming Vital Support Center.


Photos from the Jewish Family Service Barbash Family Vital Support Center's Grand Opening Celebration: