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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Project Ezrah’s 13th annual dinner will be held next Motzei Shabbat, December 9, at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood. It is a must-attend, anxiously-awaited event each year, because community members know Ezrah steps in to provide essential, sensitively developed services to those experiencing a financial emergency. Virtually every local rabbi, every shul president, every community leader and hundreds of community members make it a priority to attend the dinner to truly thank the people who work so hard to help their neighbors; and to revel in the goodness and kindness that emanates from every person associated with Project Ezrah.

Since 2001, Project Ezrah has helped hundreds of Bergen County community members through financial challenges and toward solvency, security and independence. With its finely-tuned financial planning and robust, multi-faceted job assistance programs, Ezrah seeks to always be available for community members should their help be required.

This year, the theme of the dinner is “Past, Present and Future,” and a video that allies with that theme will be screened. “The annual dinner is a point in the year when we can look back and look forward,” said Susan Alpert, Project Ezrah’s development director. She explained that while Ezrah is proud of its accomplishments as it grows, expands and tweaks programs from year to year, the organization is also constantly seeking ways to improve its services and broaden its offerings to help as many people and in as many ways as possible.

To that end, a number of new initiatives, many of which require the input and participation of community volunteers, will be introduced at the dinner. In the last year or two, Project Ezrah has begun to pivot to not just focus on financial emergencies while they are in-progress, but also to attempt to nip financial problems in the bud before they even begin. “We need to not just ‘be there’ when people need help; but to be there even before services are required, sometimes to prevent financial problems from even developing in the first place,” said Robert Hoenig, Project Ezrah’s executive director.

In 5777, he noted, Project Ezrah was able to secure housing and provide employment services for 130 community members through its comprehensive financial management and assistance program (FM&A) for which it is known. These individuals worked toward the goal of financial independence and received assistance with living expenses, financial management, budgeting techniques, pre-approved single-need assistance, caseworker supervision and/or pro-bono services. “In the same year, over 60 families who were in our FM&A program were assessed proficient in budgeting and financial management and no longer needed Project Ezrah’s financial assistance or caseworker supervision,” Hoenig reported.

With its job placement services, Project Ezrah also helped 650 candidates with their job searches, placing 180 candidates directly into meaningful, family-sustaining job situations, sometimes with simple resume overhauls and sometimes with more complex assistance. Project Ezrah job coaches work with the candidates in creating, revising and editing resumes, securing interviews, preparing candidates for interviews and coaching follow-up, and by developing relationships with employers and HR departments.

“Besides these candidates we help directly, we also have the job board, and posted 650 new jobs last year. Many of our job providers are now using our job board as their primary staffing resource,” Alpert said. She added that Ezrah’s employment department, headed by the ever-affable and approachable Jeff Mendelson, is particularly effective because people are able come to him, both employers and and employees, to ask questions and work out many types of concerns.

Alpert added that Project Ezrah’s LinkedIn community hosts 2,000 members and that community is able to reach and assist candidates through its many posts, which also allows members to interact within their specific fields. The employment department also hosts seminars regularly, which are open to everyone. They focus on wide-ranging topics as how to use Microsoft Excel and other collaborative computer programs such as Google Drive, how to create career decision trees, and even how to seek accommodations, religious or otherwise, in the workplace.

New needs that Project Ezrah has identified have given staff the chance to create an interest-free loan program, “The Aisle,” a financial planning seminar for engaged (or any) couples, Help Ezrah Help, a program that connects those who can contribute any kind of service pro bono with those who need it, and “Take Five,” which asks community members to give five minutes to an Ezrah job search candidate to answer questions about their field or specialty. Project Ezrah’s staff provided a few additional details about each of these new initiatives.

Interest-Free Loan Program

This loan fund is for a one-time need. “Say everything is fine, but the roof caves in. It has helped a lot of people. We have made six interest-free loan in the last year,” said Hoenig.

“The Aisle:” A Path Toward Financial Fidelity

The Gemara in Bava Metzia says strife in the home is often due to money issues. “Without shalom kesef (peace in money) there cannot be shalom bayit (peace in the home),”Alpert explained.

She added that the program at first focused on engaged couples, to help them get on the same page with their financial goals. “But then we started getting phone calls from people who had been married for two year, those embarking on a second marriage, from people with children who still want advice. Of course they should all come,” said Alpert. She reported that every seminar has been completely different because of different input from the attendees but they all have been exceptionally well-received. Alpert added that Project Ezrah is working to partner with Yeshiva University’s YU Connects to do a seminar for young couples.

Help Ezrah Help

Project Ezrah has long benefited from its list of pro-bono professionals who provide free assistance to their clients. “This opens up money we would spend for one family to help others. Every hour that a person gives saves our community money,” Alpert said. Help Ezrah Help asks community members who have any kind of service or expertise, such as tutoring, therapy or medical and professional services, to sign up with the program by providing these services free of charge to Project Ezrah’s clients. This year, the organization hopes to expand Help Ezrah Help’s continually growing donor base and provide even more services in assisting its clients.

Take 5!

“So many people need a short conversation about moving to a new industry. We want people to volunteer to give just five minutes so a job candidate can ask questions about this or that specialty at work. This costs nothing to the provider and it’s enormously helpful for people who are undecided,” said Mendelson. At the dinner, Project Ezrah will be seeking volunteers to participate in short conversations with clients about their job or industry.

Young Leadership Division

The organization has also been proactive in involving younger couples, 35 and under. This year and last, for example, Young Leadership couples are invited to attend the dinner for $180. At the December 9th dinner, young couples will serve as Project Ezrah ambassadors, promoting Help EZRAH Help and Take 5! at a dedicated Young Leadership table.

Honorees at the dinner include the Keter Torah CSS Security Team as the community chesed awardee, and Ezrah awardees Lauren and Zvi Adler, Dossy and Leo Brandstatter, Aviva and Harold Nussbaum, Nechama and Tuly Pollak, and Chana and Lee Schwartz.

It’s not too late to sign up for and attend the annual dinner and to donate to this worthy cause. Please visit http://www.ezrah.org/ to sign up.

By Elizabeth Kratz