A long career helping others

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Judith Salkin

Maureen Forman credits her parents for her devotion to social welfare matters.

Maureen Forman’s parents were university music professors and activists dedicated to social justice. They taught her solid principals about respecting the lives of others, and to do all she could to help those in need of compassion and assistance. 

“It was inculcated in me from a very early age to take care others,” says Forman, executive director of Jewish Family Service (JFS) of the Desert. She chose social work as the way to assist as many in need as possible. 

“Most people don’t really know what a social worker does,” she says. “It’s a term that is misused, and misunderstood, because we do so much. [Social workers] are there for every stage of life.” 

Whether that is counseling a family during a hospital or mental health crisis, helping with housing needs or guiding a family through the maze of assistance organizations, “We do it all,” Forman says.

“When you see a scene in a movie when the doctor is talking to the family about end of life care or suicide, it’s often a social worker who really is having that has that difficult conversation,” she continues.

Understanding the need

Forman spent most of her career in hospital settings for the flexibility in schedule while her children were young. “I loved being a social worker,” she says of her career. “Working in a hospital, I was able to be with my children while they needed me, and learned so much about the human condition and all the assistance agencies in the valley.” 

Forman joined the JFS clinical staff in 2011. “I was hired as a psychotherapist, but shortly after beginning the agency realized that there was a need for a clinical director,” she says. With her hospital and management background, Forman became the JFS Clinical director in 2012, and was chosen executive director in 2014. 

JFS is for everyone

What many who live in the desert don’t realize, and Forman would like to change, is that JFS serves the whole valley and always has.

 “Only about 20 percent of our clients are Jewish,” she says of the full-service social agency. “Most of our clients are low income and many are bilingual. Our front office staff and many of our therapists are bilingual. Nobody thinks that Catholic Charities only helps Catholics, why would they think JFS is only there for the Jewish community?” 

Judaism has a long moral tradition of welcoming the stranger and healing the world and has always extended compassion to all who need it, she says. 

Forman advocates for more than the hundreds of clients that come to JFS each month. In a recent Desert Sun editorial, Forman talked about a distressed, most likely homeless woman riding a bus who had recently been released from the hospital. What unnerved her was the lack of fulltime housing for the poor elderly. She called on everyone to be more attentive to those in need. Not at all unusual for a woman who trained as an interfaith minister before converting to Judaism before her marriage. 

But JFS has many other programs, such as camperships for kids, counseling services for the Palm Springs Unified School District, the Let’s Do Lunch! Program serving more than 150 seniors once a month in five locations, a Holocaust survivors support group and long-term case management services. 

“I like to think that JFS is a compassionate community service,” she says. “Sometimes people just can’t figure something out by themselves and need someone to walk alongside them until they find a solution.”

Financial base

All of this is done on a budget of less than $2 million a year, with about a third coming from contracts with insurance companies for mental health services, one-third from fundraisers such as One Night Only and the Patron Party and one-third from grantors such as the Jewish Federation of the Desert, Desert Healthcare District, Annenberg Foundation, United Way of the Desert, Auen Foundation, Fogelson family, Houston Family Foundation, Kaiser Permanente and SCAN. 

“We have a wonderful patron base,” she says of the community support of JFS’ work. “And, thankfully, we have wonderful grant writers, too.”

It is the spirit of “tikkun olam,” the Jewish concept that is defined by acts of kindness to repair the world which drew Forman to JFS and continues to inspire her. “I want people to know that JFS is here for the entire valley and that we are here to stay.” 

JFS of the Desert: jfsdesert.org, (760) 325-4088