In 2005, Florence Galkin, a social worker living in New York, founded Mashov, an Israeli nonprofit organization whose mission is to support “Citizen Involvement and Partnership for Community Advocacy.” Over the years, Mashov has initiated a variety of efforts focused on advocating client’s rights and removing barriers to their receiving services. One demographic, in particular that could benefit from Mashov’s services, is single parents who often find themselves straddling many responsibilities and obligations. In addition to raising their children, they are often employed full or part-time and have additional obligations to other family members, as well. Ms. Galkin noted that single parents in Jerusalem were not always aware of their rights and entitlements and how to access them.
This predicament is not unique to Jerusalem as the Israeli Government provides benefits to single parents; however, it is often a challenge for them to find out what they are and how to access them. Some of their rights and entitlements include reductions in property tax (arnona), school tuition, community center fees, and sometimes an income tax break.
Mashov realized that there was no central address for single parents to seek all the information they need about their rights and how to access them. Since Ms. Galkin, on behalf of Mashov, maintained a long-standing relationship with Jerusalem’s Department of Social Services (henceforth referred to as “The Department”), she was able to initiate a discussion with the Director of Social Services and her staff about the needs of single parents. As soon as the questions were posed it became evident that single parents did not have a sense of the benefits they could receive, and the staff had no idea of how they could assist the clients in becoming aware of their rights.
Mashov’s consultant met with the Department and it soon became clear that it wasn’t only single parents who were unclear about their rights but the social service staff, as well. Fortunately, the Department was receptive to Mashov’s suggestions and in the end, a plan was developed for clarifying and making more accessible single parents’ rights. Following the initial conversations it became clear to the staff that it was not a “black and white” issue of receiving benefits or not receiving benefits. The social work staff responded positively to the suggestions of what should be done to remove the barriers preventing clients from receiving their entitlements. The National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi) that is responsible for providing many of the benefits was invited to join this effort and agreed to participate in finding ways to remove these barriers.
A major obstacle that had to be overcome was educating the social service workers about the barriers this vulnerable population faced when trying to receive information about their rights. As a result, Mashov, with the support of the Department, decided to establish a center wholly devoted to single parents that would function on multiple levels. The clients would have an address that they could turn to for information and guidance regarding what steps they would have to take to access their services and benefits. Beyond understanding what they are entitled to, the biggest challenges facing single parents were navigating various governmental offices and accessing their benefits.
One of the most innovative aspects of this effort was engaging and training volunteers. These are the people who provide information, guidance and assistance for single parents to secure the services and benefits entitled to them under the direction of a social worker from the Department. An important outcome of this new service is how once single parents are empowered with understanding and accessing their rights, their self-image and self-esteem increase and they begin volunteering to share this important information with other single parents.
Once it received proper funding and support, the Department was able to break down the barriers that prevented the clients from receiving necessary services and information. The National Insurance Institute, the Jerusalem Foundation and the Municipality of Jerusalem funded the project for an initial two-year period. During these initial years the project developed cooperative relationships with other nonprofits such as Shatil, which focuses on providing the Center with media exposure. Yedid works with the clients when they need an advocate to represent them in government offices, and Wikirights provides Internet access to important information regarding their benefits.
The social workers understood that they were not only assisting the clients in receiving their entitlements, but they understood the primary problem, which was that there needed to be systemic changes. Toward this end, in addition to reaching out to other organizations the center began to develop a lobbying effort so that Israeli politicians responsible for legislation and for the ministries would understand that there had to be a change in the way clients could find out the necessary information that would enable them to access their rights and entitlements.
The Center has so far worked very successfully in one neighborhood in Jerusalem and plans are now underway for opening the same type of center in two additional neighborhoods. This effort has resulted in a real change in the way the Department addresses single parents who are entitled to receive services. The Department’s administration and social work staff understand that the issue is broader than just the benefits the clients should be receiving. The end result is a program where, as a result of becoming informed, it is the clients who become the service providers to other target clients.
What we learn from this case study is how a committed and dedicated overseas donor with a creative idea can have a broad impact on the way a challenge is approached and how a creative solution is found that not only responds to the needs of the clients, but also fosters change within a social service delivery system. The social worker said to me in a meeting, “More important than the support of the Center was introducing our Department to a new way of thinking. For this both the Department and the clients are indebted to her.”
When donors and lay leaders have creative ideas they can make a contribution that has a greater impact than just the donation of charitable funds. This is an example of how one person who is a partner in initiating change makes a difference in how we think about service delivery, as well as how people have access to the services they are entitled to receive.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.