Jewish Family and Children’s Service expanding to Main Line

BALA CYNWYD >> A long-vacant commercial building on Montgomery Avenue in Bala Cynwyd will soon have a new life as a community and family services center.Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 11.04.49 AMJewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia announced recently that it has acquired properties at 345-351 Montgomery Ave. with plans to open its first location on the Main Line. The non-profit organization has four existing branches in Center City, Elkins Park and North and Northeast Philadelphia.

An $8 million project, the center will include a library, a parent-child resource room, meeting rooms for individual and group counseling and support, administrative offices and a base for volunteer activities. A therapeutic teaching kitchen for persons with disabilities and a creative arts studio are also planned, reflecting the broad range of services the organization, marking its 160th year in 2015, provides. There will also be a thrift boutique on site.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for Sept. 9, said Paula Goldstein, who has served as JFCS’s CEO since 2011. The center is expected to open in September 2016.

The new facility will be called the Barbara and Harvey Brodsky Enrichment Center, in honor of the philanthropist couple. Harvey Brodsky, who died in 2011, was a longtime supporter, and Barbara, of Haverford, is a major donor to the initiative.

Goldstein said JFCS has offered a number of its services to Main Line residents in the past through affiliations with local synagogues and in-home services to individuals. The Bala Cynwyd center, as its first permanent home on the Main Line, will offer more opportunities to bring people together and strengthen the community connection and engagement programs it has offered for area clients, she said.

Part of a long-term initiative for the organization, the expansion to Bala Cynwyd and the Main Line responds to a desire to increase services in an area with a large and growing Jewish community, Goldstein explained. “We wanted to have a presence there.”

She said plans are to work within the existing footprint of the 18,000-square-foot building, located at Montgomery and Parsons avenues. Vacant for eight years, it previously housed office and retail uses.

JFCS formed in 1983 when two organizations with a long history in Philadelphia merged. The Association for Jewish Children, whose predecessor agency, the Jewish Foster Home, was found in 1855 by Rebecca Gratz, was the first institution in the country to care for indigent and destitute Jewish children.

Jewish Family Service began in 1869 as United Hebrew Charities, providing food, clothing, fuel and medical and other aid to those in need. It evolved to offer counseling, homemaker services, services for older persons and Jewish family life education programs.

Today, JFCS serves children, teens, adults and seniors – across the life cycle, Goldstein notes. A special focus is on serving persons with special needs and providing community-building services for people who might otherwise be “isolated by their challenges,” she said.

The organization has programs to support Holocaust survivors, and continues to work in the areas of adoption and foster care. Another important area of its work is in financial stability, including budgeting and debt management and assisting clients in obtaining needed Social Security, disability and health benefits. In that area, “We never just give financial assistance. We want to give [clients] a sustainable plan,” Goldstein said.

“We hope to also, through these specialty arenas, invited volunteers to work with our clients,” she said, in a way that “helps people who are volunteering have a meaningful experience and helps the people we serve.”

With its purchase of the Montgomery Avenue properties, JFCS will consolidate parcels zoned commercial and residential. The western portion, zoned R2, is currently a mostly open lot, occupied by a garage that will be demolished. JFCS is seeking a variance to install a driveway from Montgomery Avenue and additional parking on that portion.

In hearings before the Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board over several months, some neighbors have objected to the plans, preferring to see the parcel at 351 Montgomery developed under its residential zoning.

After the hearings concluded earlier this year, JFCS asked to reopen the matter to present some additional testimony. A hearing date has been set for next Thursday, July 9, at 7:15 p.m., at the Township Building, 75 E. Lancaster Ave.

If a variance is denied, Zoning Officer Michael Wylie said this week, JFCS can still operate the center in the commercial building, without the added parking.

For more information about Jewish Family and Children’s Service and its programs, visitwww.jfcsphilly.org.