Training day informs information-givers

A man in Australia is trying to locate his elderly father whom he had lost touch with several years ago.

A Sonoma woman is trying to bring her ill father from the Ukraine to the U.S. for cardiac surgery.

A San Francisco man is looking for a place to rent yarmulkes for his wedding.

These are just a few of the calls that volunteers at Jewish Community Information & Referral have received in the last year.

Gail Green, JCI&R's new director, is in charge of training volunteers to make sure they are prepared to handle such calls.

Green, who has been at JCI&R for eight months, said her main goal is to create visibility and outreach.

"The agency is constantly growing. Last year we received 5,600 calls and we are expecting 7,000 calls this year."

She is also excited about JCI&R's increasing Internet presence, through America Online. The agency was recently awarded a grant from the JCF Endowment Fund's Louis Dessauer Trust and the Sophia and Milton Meyer Trust.

Totaling $8,850, it will enable resource information compiled in files, books and binders to be transferred to computers.

Most critical to JC&IR's service is its volunteer training program, said Green, who does a four-hour one-on-one sessions with new volunteers. Sessions focus on effective communication, problem-solving skills and resource management.

Green tries to make sure all her information is up to date, "but sometimes the volunteers need to see first hand what is accessible to the callers."

That's why last month Green and five JCI&R volunteers attended an in-service training day at S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services.

Representatives from three different JFCS departments informed the volunteers about their services.

"The more you know about us, the easier it will be to make referrals," Ilene Goldman, director of senior services, told the volunteers.

Goldman shared with volunteers the importance of reading between the lines.

"When someone calls and asks if you know of a good nursing home in Marin, they are really saying they need help for an elderly parent in need of care," said Goldman. "All questions deserve the proper response."

Ellen Benjamen, a volunteer who attended the meeting, wishes senior services were more available several years ago when her mother needed home care and she did not know where to turn.

"If someone could have referred me to senior services, my life would have been a lot easier," she said.

Shirley La Mere, another volunteer, said such information will help her "change the way I refer — and that is what I was there to do."

Laurel Kloomok, director of JFCS' children's services, said her department deals with children from birth to age 18.

Many of the volunteers were under the impression that this service was only for younger children.

Yael Moses, JFCS' director of adult services, reminded the volunteers that all JFCS services were developed because people in the community asked for them.

"As a volunteer your goal is to figure out what the caller's focus is."

Added volunteer Virginia Prince, "If we can't provide a service for people it is our responsibility to find somewhere in the community that can."

Green is planning on making in-service days like the one at JFCS ongoing events, with one every other month.

She said JCI&R is always looking for volunteers who have good listening skills, are objective and can convey information in a friendly way.

"A lot of times the phone call to JCI&R may be the person's first connection with the Jewish community," she said, "and it is our responsibility to make it a positive one."