Imagine living alone with no way to get to the places you need to go. You depend on others to bring you food, clothing and anything else you need. You struggle to do your laundry, clean your house or even climb the stairs in your own home. Every day requires you to depend on someone else, and every year, that dependence only grows.
That’s the reality that thousands of older adults are living with today. For those individuals, independence seems like a lost dream and every day is a struggle to meet basic needs. That’s why the staff at Collat Jewish Family Services is working hard to restore independence to older adults living in the Birmingham area.
“We are a 25-year old agency that focuses primarily on older adult services,” said CJFS Executive Director Lauren Schwartz. Originally a committee at the Birmingham Jewish Federation, CJFS became an independent United Way agency in 1989 and is now a nonprofit organization which serves clients of all religions. “Our programs and services are designed to help people age in place, stay at home for as long as they can with as much independence as possible, safely, and with the highest quality of life possible,” said Schwartz.
According to Schwartz, the population of people over the age of 65 is expected to increase 40 percent over the next 25 years. “AARP does an annual study, and about 90 percent of people who are over age 65 want to stay living in their home for as long as they can,” she said. “So in order to do that, sometimes they need a small amount of support and sometimes they need a lot of support, and we just don’t have the capacity for that in our country right now.”
CJFS’s programs are designed to help provide that support to people in Birmingham and Jefferson County. Serving around 600 clients a year, the agency’s staff and volunteers offer services including counseling, case management, transportation and more. “Our main goal is to help our clients to remain independent as long as they are able to,” said Clinical Director Robin McMilin.
One of the newest programs, CJFS CARES (Caring for Adults through Respite, Enrichment & Socialization) is designed for people with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. “It includes exercise, arts and crafts, intergenerational activities, music and pet therapy, and it’s just a real happy place,” said McMilin. The program is available four days a week, and clients can attend as often as they like, although attendance is currently full. “We have staff and we have volunteers, and so it gives the spouse or partner of the client four hours to do whatever they need to do, and they’ll know that their loved one is in a fun happy place,” said McMilin.
CJFS also offers two separate transportation services for clients. Buz-A-Bus, a service which offers transportation for everything from medical appointments to hair appointments to family visits, is available to adults over 60 within a five-mile radius of the office. Just Like Family is a private transportation service through which clients are accompanied on errands or to medical appointments.
Although many of CJFS’s programs are limited to a 7-mile radius in order to be effective and efficient, Schwartz explained that the agency is a “resource hub.” “So we can’t go to Ensley and serve somebody efficiently and effectively, but we could refer to someone else in Ensley,” she said. “So if people need a service, particularly older adult services, we can help with that.”
According to Schwartz, there are about 10,000 older adults in Jefferson County living in poverty, which means that not everyone can afford the help that they need. “When somebody comes to us and has a need, we will we have a fee for our services,” explained Schwartz. “If somebody can’t afford to pay that fee, we want to still be able to serve them. And so we have other resources available to us to help defray that cost.”
Through donations, grants and allocations from United Way and the Birmingham Jewish Federation, CJFS is able to offer services on a sliding fee scale and reach people who couldn’t otherwise afford help. In addition, CJFS offers some services for free, including consultations for clients considering Medicare Part D plans.
For anyone who would like to become involved, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer with CJFS. “We use volunteers in every facet of the agency,” said Schwartz. Opportunities include everything from participating in the CARES program to assisting with data entry.
As the number of senior adults in Jefferson County grows, the challenge of meeting their needs is becoming more difficult. “We want to be a support to individuals and families as they’re trying to navigate the journey of aging,” said Schwartz. Through their programs and services, the staff at CJFS is working to not only be that support, but to help those in need regain the independence they once had.
Collat Jewish Family Services is located at 3940 Montclair Road. For more information, or to volunteer, visit cjfsbham.org or call 205-879-3438. Interested volunteers should ask for Jennifer Nemet.