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Serving Clients by Listening

¿Coma estás? How are you? Yolanda Chávez Leyva told us this is the basic, human question she always asks when meeting with children separated from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border.

Dr. Leyva was one of dozens of presenters I had the privilege of learning from in January at the Together We Remember Virtual Global Allyship Summit: Uniting Across Borders, Disciplines and Generations to Turn Collective Memory Into Collective Action in the Fight Against Hate.

JFCS is more than 1,400 miles from El Paso, but Dr. Leyva’s first question is our first question, too: How are you? Whether our receptionist and intake coordinator Anita is welcoming a client in our physical offices or virtually by video, nothing is more essential than the chesed, the compassion and empathy, with which the question is offered and the response received. Our job is to listen, which is as simple as it is difficult. And, listening is what our staff expertly does every day.

Dr. Levya explained that she does not “give voice” to those she serves; instead, she listens. She recognizes, just as we do at JFCS, that people are expert in their own lives and experiences. Whatever we might offer, it can only be of service when we honor that principle.

People who turn to JFCS face obstacles (past and present), but each at their core has unique strengths that propel strides toward the future they see for themselves. When I heard Dr. Leyva describe children and families living through multiple layers of trauma as children and families who are also living through multiple layers of resilience, I could have been listening to any of our counselors, coaches or case managers talking about JFCS’ strengths-based approach as the shared cornerstone of all the services we provide.

Each individual and every family we serve bring their own distinct experiences to our door. We are here to reflect back to them the resilience they have already demonstrated and to walk with them on their particular path of possibilities.

I cherish JFCS and the work we do because JFCS sits at the intersection of our Jewish-American journey and values. Our tradition reminds us that we were strangers, we were once slaves. And, we know all too well how the road to genocide unfolds. So, I cherish this intersection where we can be for ourselves and for others. Where our lived experiences can meet the lived experiences of others. Where each is the expert of their own life, and in sharing the truth of that life in specific and unique ways, we can begin to truly see the undeniable humanity that connects us.

By Deb Frockt
Chief Executive Officer
Jewish Family & Career Services