Marin JFCS drawing more clients with new location

These days, you might find yourself standing in the Jewish Family and Children's Services' Marin County office by accident — and that's just how the JFCS wants it.

After relocating from an office suite to its very own building in downtown San Rafael in mid-December, JFCS officials note with pride that the number of drop-in clients has swelled.

"An awful lot of people are ringing the bell and coming in and saying, 'What is this?' or 'I'm interested in parenting classes,' or 'My mother is moving over here, help me!'" said Amy Rassen, the JFCS' associate executive director.

"The access and visibility makes a big difference in people walking in," she said.We're right off the freeway, right near bus stops, so we're completely accessible for people to drive or walk. In the other two sites we were in, we were not; you'd have really needed a car to get there."

The JFCS' new digs also have another advantage over the old spot: they're about three times larger, meaning kids can play without any worries of knocking over a cubicle.

"We have a really great playroom decked out with all sorts of toys, art supplies and fun things, and a family meeting room right outside the playroom so parents can meet while their children play," said Laurel Kloomok, director of Parents Place for the San Francisco-based JFCS.

"We have a brand-new space where we can do some really comprehensive parenting programs. You can come in and take a class with your child or take a class while the child is in childcare."

The new four-story building also features a library and parenting bulletin board, in which parents seeking babysitters and babysitters seeking parents can make postings. The JFCS is in the midst of a $4.2 million fund-raising effort to cover the costs of the building.

While the organization is ecstatic to own its own place in Marin, possessing the new facility as a base of operations also enables the organization to expand its outside programs.

Thanks to a grant from the Kirkwood Foundation, Parents Place is aiming to expand the "Parents Place Express" program it has featured in San Francisco for decades to the Peninsula. Basically the program works this way: Instead of community members dropping in on the JFCS and Parents Place, Parents Place drops in on them — at work.

"We meet with a CEO or HR person depending on the size of the company, and do a needs assessment of what their employees want and how we can help them, and then implicate the whole program," said Rassen.

Recent Peninsula participants in the program have told her that "it helped them with their parenting skills and also gave them a chance to network with co-workers they haven't even met before. And employers felt it let their employees know that they cared about them."

JFCS staffers also hope there can now be more interaction among different groups helping out with programs. With all the organization's facilities under one roof, seniors can walk downstairs to help in the children's playroom, or volunteers can circulate among the variety of programs now taking place in the building.

"I think one of the wonderful things about all of us being under one roof is there's going to be a lot of cross-referring. Previously, we were all in different places," said Nancy Rubin, a Parents Place therapist for children and families.

"A lot of people who hadn't previously used the facility are seeing the new place and getting involved,'' she added. "We're an identifiable, visible resource in the community. Up until now, a lot of people thought we were an extension of the JCC. Now they realize we're our own entity."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.