After nine months of planning and negotiations, Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island (JFSRI) and the Jewish Seniors Agency of Rhode Island (JSA) have agreed to merge into one comprehensive agency called Jewish Community Services of Greater Rhode Island.
Talks of a merger are nothing new for the two agencies. They had entered into talks a number of times, but nothing had resulted. This time, though, a facilitator was hired, and a partnership committee formed, and the work of merging missions, goals, etc. was accomplished under a more structured framework.
In fact, many in the Rhode Island Jewish community might wonder why it’s taken so long for the agencies – with sometimes overlapping constituents – to become one.
“As we got to know each other this time,” said Susan Bazar, executive director of JSA, “there was increasing awareness that both agencies were providing services to seniors.”
Erin Minior, CEO of JFSRI, agreed. “There was brand confusion, identity confusion,” she said. “People didn’t know who to call … who to give money to … .”
The shrinking pool of funding and the overlapping services were just two of the reasons for the merger. In a conversation with Bazar and Minior, the two spoke about how the new social service landscape just makes sense for their agencies and for the community.
Said Bazar: “My hope is that we will offer a holistic, wraparound approach to the family and individual in need.” Both Minior and Bazar pointed out that often if a client is coming in for one service, such as food at the Louis & Goldie Chester Full Plate Kosher Food Pantry, there is also need elsewhere in his or her life.
This is part of the new agency’s mission statement:
“… to sustain, nurture and strengthen the well-being of seniors, adults, children and families and to ensure access to a full continuum of care through the life cycle, within the framework of Jewish tradition and values.”
The staff at both agencies have met and seem excited. They are already planning for ways to integrate. “I think we will find that for the most part this will make it easier for everyone. Support staff will have help and there will be more people to service the community,” said Minior. There are no plans to cut staff positions.
And if there was ever a doubt about the two agency heads working together, rest assured: During the interview, they completed each other’s sentences.
When the new agency emerges, Minior will serve as interim CEO and Bazar will be chief strategy and development officer. Simultaneously, there will be a search for a permanent head of the combined agency.
The agencies will consolidate into one office. The location has yet to be decided. JFSRI currently has offices on North Main Street while JSA has offices on Niantic Avenue, both in Providence.
There will be a new board of directors, headed by Jeff Padwa, president of the Jewish Seniors Agency board.
The new board will include seven to nine members from each agency’s board of directors and four to six members from the community who are not now affiliated with either agency, for a maximum of 18-24 members.
“There is a legal process that will take some time to make us a legal entity. But we can start the integrative process now,” said Minior. The legal papers should be filed sometime this summer. The newly merged board and strategic planning will be the first public signs of the merger, she said.
The new agency will continue to oversee the Phyllis Siperstein Tamarisk Assisted Living Residence, and the Shalom Apartments, both in Warwick, as well as the Kosher Food Pantry. The counseling component will remain in place, as will the senior nutrition program, which includes the Kosher meal sites in Providence and Cranston and Kosher Meals on Wheels.
In fact, while the agencies combine, all programs will stay intact, says Bazar. “Work doesn’t stop. The needy still are needy,” she said.
“All donated funds will continue to be used for their original purposes,” she added.
“We expect social services needs to continue to grow. This allows us to be poised to provide services to the greater Jewish community,” Bazar said.
JSA was formed in 1993 when the Jewish Home for the Aged closed, but has existed in some form since the 1890s. JFSRI was formed in 1929. The facilitation process was funded by a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation and financial support from the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.
FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of The Jewish Voice