Applauding 150 years of helping hands

Seventy years ago, the precursor to Jewish Family and Children's Services could have dried up and gone away with the wind.

At least 40,000 people in the Bay Area are glad it didn't. That's how many people the S.F.-based agency assisted last year alone.

All of them, and thousands of others — from the 500 people on the JFCS staff to the agency's legion of more than 2,000 volunteers to the 10,000 annual donors — can share the warm feelings as JFCS celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

The oldest social service agency west of the Mississippi is a truly amazing organization.

The scope and breadth of its services can't even be summed up in a single sentence, except to say than it serves people from the cradle to the grave.

To list all of the programs that JFCS offers would take this entire page.

JFCS has workshops and therapy in dozens of contexts. And all kinds of support groups.

The agency makes home visits to seniors who need just a little help to get by, and to disabled adults who need a little bit more.

It reaches out to AIDS patients and other people with special needs, to new Americans trying to learn English or get a job, and to first-time parents with questions about how best to raise their children.

Plus much, more more. There are so many programs, it's hard to keep track of them all. Yet somehow, the agency functions as smoothly as a gold-miner's pan.

Seventy years ago, it could have ceased to function at all. When the federal government took over the job of doling out welfare money, the Eureka Benevolent Society was on the outs.

Thankfully, it came up with a new name and, more importantly, a new focus: social services.

The rest, as they say, is history. In this case, it's a history that deserves to be applauded.