It is not about romance, nor is it a dating service. Rather, the West Hollywood program JFS Connect focuses on building meaningful relationships to help fulfill an important need for the city's seniors.
The Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles program provides volunteer drivers for seniors and disabled adults who need assistance grocery shopping and getting around town.
One of LA County’s first volunteer driving programs, it strives today to fulfill another important need. “Our emphasis is on socialization, and not just about the rides,” said JFS Connect coordinator Terry Shajirat. “Each volunteer is assigned to one person. Matches are made with great care and we try to bring people together who have similar interests and personality styles.”
The goals? "Decreasing the loneliness and isolation often experienced by seniors, in addition to providing them the opportunity to form what often become enduring friendships," said Shajirat.
Brian Potter, 34, a product of a family that places a high value on volunteering, was looking for a new volunteer opportunity when he found JFS Connect on the LA Works website. A volunteer since May 2009, Potter is currently matched with an 80-year-old resident.
“I’ve volunteered before, but always in large groups,” said Potter. “This is the first time I am helping one person and can directly and immediately impact someone’s quality of life.”
The two run errands, but also have social outings together. “We recently went to a concert and then went out for beer and hot wings,” he said. “As the years have passed, she and I have progressed past Connect partners. I’ve made a lifelong friend.”
Launched in 2007, JFS Connect was born out of a needs assessment survey of West Hollywood seniors. “Transportation emerged as one of the greatest issues,” said Susan Alexman, director of senior center services, JFS Los Angeles. “We decided to move beyond what was already available and to fill the gaps.”
JFS Connect offers "door through door service." Volunteers pick up participants from their homes and take them back into their homes, Alexman said.
Volunteers are carefully screened and are required to attend a four-hour JFS Connect training, which covers issues that include safety, expectations in working with clients, the importance of confidentially, and ethics.
Ashley Aruda, 26, was “matched” with a visually impaired participant. Eager to give back to the community in a positive way, Aruda sought out the program in October 2009.
“I’ve developed a great friendship with him over the months,” she said. “He’s become an inspiration to me. Even though he is visually impaired, he’s one of the happiest, most positive people I know.”
Funded by the city of West Hollywood, JFS Connect is a program of the JFS West Hollywood Comprehensive Services Center. Now replicated in Park La Brea, JFS Connect is a recipient of the 2009 Beverly Foundation STAR Award, which recognizes excellence in providing transportation to older adults.
If you would like more information about JFS Connect, call 323-851-8202 (West Hollywood) or 323-936-0859 (Park La Brea).