The JBFCS Story: Our History

Born more than a century ago from the heart of New York’s Jewish Community, The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services has grown into an organization that provides support and care for those in need in all of the city’s diverse communities and distinctive neighborhoods. In its earliest days, volunteers for what would later become JBFCS were described as “an organized expression of neighborly feeling”. This spirit drives JBFCS to this day, as it continues to extend a helping hand to those most in need of care, support, and a clear vision of a path forward.

OUR JEWISH ROOTS

In 1874, New York City was the center of a growing and flourishing immigrant community. Alongside this unique explosion of multicultural living, though, arose a range of social problems. Insurmountable poverty, crime, the exploitation of labor, and the unchecked spread of tuberculosis darkened the American dream for a massive segment of the city’s population.1967 -- Historical Photo

It was from this environment that the two early precursors to JBFCS arose: The Jewish Prisoner’s Aid Society, to “minister to the physical and spiritual needs of Jewish prisoners and their families”, and United Hebrew Charities, an organization that brought together a collection of smaller organizations to “improve the condition of the poor by assisting them in various ways to raise themselves from their present conditions”.

Over the next century, these two organizations changed names and broadened missions to extend and expand that “expression of neighborly feeling”.

Providing Hope in Difficult Times

Throughout the 1920s, the discipline of Social Work blossomed in order to analyze and understand the emerging ills of modern city life, and alongside it grew our direct predecessors. The organizations, which had by then been renamed the Jewish Board of Guardians and the Jewish Social Services Association, created programs addressing homelessness and providing a wide range of basic social services, and these programs were ramped in the 1930s to help carry New York through The Great Depression.

Research and Understanding

In the 1940s and 1950s, a newfound focus on counseling and mental health in the world of social services found the organizations providing more aid than ever to children and families. By 1959 the organizations, now the Jewish Board of Guardians and Jewish Family Services, had established themselves as leaders in the world of social welfare, continuing to provide revolutionarily effective treatments to many as they also offered training to mental health workers and, through research, helped the professions of psychiatry and psychology take huge strides forward.

Facing Social Turbulence Head-On

The social change and upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s found the organizations again shifting focus to meet head-on the needs of new communities. New York City was facing unprecedented crises. Crime and poverty skyrocketed. Juvenile delinquency, mental health issues, and drug abuse grew to epidemic levels. With the new popularity of the American counterculture, new kinds of cross-generational gaps and conflicts arose within families. Social service organizations and government were both struggling to keep up. But during this time, both Jewish Family Services and the Jewish Board of Guardians provided relief, pioneering new programs to address the issues of turbulent times both within and outside of the Jewish community.

Joining Forces and Breaking New Ground

In 1978, amid funding cuts and facing more complex social problems than ever before, a new organization was born, and a new day had arrived in the world of social services. The Jewish Board of Guardians and Jewish Family Services merged under the moniker Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, promising reinvigorated service for a City in need. A proclamation by Mayor Ed Koch announcing the merger read:

“The citizens of New York City welcome the establishment of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, a mental health and social service agency created through the merger of two of the city’s oldest and finest service organizations… We expect that this new entity, with its unique combination of skill, faith, and determination, will continue and expand upon the tradition of excellence for which its parent agencies have earned the respect and gratitude of all New Yorkers.”

A New Organization Meets New Challenges

That tradition of excellence did, indeed, continue, and the newfound flexibility of the organization’s mission, empowered by the merger, was critical in the difficult decades that followed. In the 1980s and 1990s, the gap between the city’s rich and poor had never been more pronounced. The devastation of the emerging AIDS crisis shook the city. At the same time, a new wave of Soviet émigrés was arriving in New York with its own special needs, and the range of issues faced by many of the city’s diverse populations continued to grow. People still needed help, and government funding trickled away from social service organizations. Here UJA-Federation stepped in to philanthropically fund JBFCS’s Jewish–targeted programs, an important and fruitful partnership that continues to the present day.

In New York, We All Belong

Moving forward into the new millennium, JBFCS has found new ways to provide help and relief to more families and individuals than ever before. From the singular needs of 9/11 survivors to the conditions of poverty that have existed in the city for more than a century, JBFCS is there to help. In a hectic city that always poses new challenges, JBFCS is constantly finding new ways to meet them. A tree of care with Jewish roots, its branches extend our “expression of neighborly feeling” to all those who are in need in the biggest neighborhood in the world, New York City.

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