JFCS educational funds turning dreams into reality

Yolanda Anyon, determined to be an agent for change, wanted to be a social worker. Ben Botts hoped to become a public service lawyer, so he could help people in practical ways. Both had educational dreams that carried steep tuition prices, and both turned to a loan and grant program offered through the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

Loans of up to $6,000 per year are available, many with no or low interest rates, and payment is deferred until after graduation. Grants range from $1,000 to $1,500. (For details, see http://bit.ly/x7Ox2s.)

“We help people get a start in life, establish self-sufficiency,” said Anita Friedman, executive director of the agency for 27 years. She proudly notes that more than half of the people helped by JFCS later contribute to help others, and says the agency has an almost perfect record of loan repayment.

Ben Botts

Anyon, 34, of San Francisco, plans to begin repaying her loan as soon as she finds a tenure-track position at a university where she will teach school social work. She is completing her doctoral dissertation at the School of Social Welfare at U.C. Berkeley.

Anyon learned about the JFCS program from her hairdresser, who had received a loan there for her business. “Usually I am debt-averse, but taking loans and grants from an organization that reflects my values, an organization that I care about, made me feel better,” Anyon said. Over a three-year period, the agency awarded her $2,000 in grants and loaned her $15,000.

“The money allowed me to pursue my education, plus the first two years of school you work in the field — unpaid — while attending classes full time, and the financial help meant I didn’t have to get additional jobs,” Anyon said. “That would have been incredibly stressful.”

Originally, Anyon thought she might become a civil rights lawyer, but after she worked in a high school in west Oakland doing youth advocacy work, she changed her mind. “My strongest identification with the Jewish community is around social justice issues. My grandparents and parents were community organizers, and they communicated to me that being a good Jew was about giving back, making the world a better place,” she said. “Now I can teach others how to make that happen in school settings.”

Ben Botts, 31, hopes to make the world a better place by working in public service law. Botts grew up in Berkeley, and after he earned his undergraduate degree, he worked for three years at a law firm that specialized in immigration law. The job helped him earn money for law school and also provided direction for his career.

Yolanda Anyon (right) with her mother, Joan

“I saw this was a way I could do work that had practical benefits for people’s lives,” Botts said. Between 2007 and 2010, he received $15,000 in loans from JFCS. He used the money to help pay for law school at Boalt Hall at U.C. Berkeley.

“The loan from JFCS was a piece of the puzzle for me in terms of paying for law school,” Botts said. “Tuition can be a prohibitive factor, especially for people who want to work in public interest law or government law, where you earn about one-third the salary of a corporate lawyer. When I was in school, tuition was over $30,000 a year, and it’s higher now.” Botts earned his law degree in 2010.

Today, Botts is one of nine recent law school graduates working in Washington, D.C., as an honors program attorney at the Department of Labor. For the past 15 months, he has rotated through different departments in the agency. Currently, he is working in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act department.

Botts still has student loans to pay off, but said he is grateful for the help he received while in school. “Without the support of the JFCS, I would not have been able to choose this career path.”

“The JFCS is the oldest charitable organization in the western U.S., providing financial assistance to the Jewish community since 1850,” said Friedman, who has worked at the agency for 33 years. “The first year, 13 people were served. Since then, JFCS has served hundreds of thousands of individuals. In 2010 alone, we provided more than 500 loans and scholarships.”

Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.