Young married couple talking to counselor.They seem happy after many sessions
Young married couple talking to counselor.They seem happy after many sessions

HOW DO YOU spell relief? JCRN—the Jewish Counseling and Referral Network’s goal is to find the help you need. Many people, however, are unfamiliar with this service from Jewish Federation SGPV so I spoke to Kim Banaji, Program and Community Outreach Coordinator as well as Executive Director, Jason Moss and Jennifer R. Levin, a Pasadena-based grief counselor, to learn more.

When you call the Jewish Federation’s office in Monrovia and ask for JCRN, Kim, a woman with a subtle Israeli accent and a kind heart, will greet you. She is your JCRN point person for counseling or referral information. Kim will provide you with contact details for local resources including counseling, stress, grief and loss, relationships, adolescent issues and more.

Kim directs callers to the appropriate resource when they take that first step to seek help. “It’s between me and them,” she says. “I don’t fill out a form with information. I don’t keep the information anywhere. I simply take their name and number. I write to my clinicians. If a clinician picks up the referral, I connect the two of them. That’s it.” The JCRN clinicians Kim puts callers in touch with are certified psychologists, therapists ans social workers from the Jewish community. She maintains a list of qualified professionals and refers callers to someone suitable. However, not all callers are from within the community nor do they have to be. “When I started working at the Federation, people, not necessarily Jewish people, not necessarily from any affiliated temples, started calling.” Kim received calls from homeless people, from sick people in need of help, and people in a problematic financial state about to lose their homes. “Everything you can think about. Senior-care, in-home care, people who were attacked physically, domestic abuse, anything, somehow they got the number,” often from other organizations. After a refugee rang asking for help, Kim realized many of the calls weren’t people needing clinicians. She researched organizations in the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys and expanded her resource directory to include relief organizations. “I work with people that know the area and this field much better than I do. I use the people that I work with to get the information I need.” If someone needs legal assistance, that’s also something Kim handles. “I have a few family mediators, family lawyers and lawyers in general that I can refer to.” Despite her invaluable role, Kim stresses that she’s not a case manager or a social worker and humbly states, “I’ve worked with in-need populations in Israel, but I’m not a professional.”

According to Jason Moss, JCRN is a service the Jewish Federation provides in order to give people who don’t know where to turn, a starting point. “It allows people to call one number, and at the least get the beginning assistance for the types of needs they have. Kim doesn’t walk callers through each and every step. But at the same time having JCRN gives people that sense of, ‘Okay, I know where to start,’” says Jason. From there it becomes their responsibility. Often it’s a case of “I don’t know how or what to ask for or even where to begin,” because, says Jason, “I think a lot of the stuff that we do as we get older, we have never experienced before.”

Jason is proud of the JCRN’s accomplishments whether it’s been through forming a grief support group, helping aging parents, or finding emergency funding in order to get a heart procedure or pay the rent. Yet he feels it’s not so much the successes, but most importantly that JCRN’s been able to support a wide range of people’s needs. “One of the things I love about JCRN and I think is important to understand is, we’re not looking to recreate a Jewish Family Service, that’s not our intention.” What JCRN’s able to do is leverage relationships and develop the connections with these outside organizations that specialize in these areas like Friends In Deed, Union Station, and organizations in the eastern part of our community that people aren’t aware of. “We can be the conduit and really leverage the funding we have … or the capacity we have, without a case manager. And we’re able to use organizations’ best practices. That’s where I believe the success has come from.”

“I think the program could expand,” says Jason, “and I would love for it to expand because in many ways, it’s a true direct service we provide to the community.” He’d like to have more support groups, a roster of volunteers to visit people and become companions and friends to those feeling isolated, an emergency fund where people in true need can turn to, like a community chest—the types of things that usually most communities have. Jason would be satisfied knowing that the Jewish Federation is not only relevant but making an impact on the lives of the community although right now “our capacity to do that is not where I woukd like it to be. We don’t have the means, financially or manpower-wise to do that. We also don’t know if that’s a want or need of the community.”

Jennifer R. Levin, MFT PhD, who started a grief support group for JCRN several years ago, specializes in working with people living with serious illness or currently grieving a loss. When putting the group together, Jennifer focused on spousal loss because the issue is so different than the loss of a parent or other types of losses that people were experiencing. The diverse group began with around nine participants who all became very close and didn’t want the group to stop. “They created a community that was beyond amazing. We probably had four or five different temples represented and we had men and women and a variety of ages were represented …” As facilitator, Jennifer helped unify the group, creating a safe space and conversation to the point that “they took it from there and created something that was so magnificent and so special that we couldn’t add new people at that point. People also talked about how grateful they were to have a place that was specifically for Jewish participants.”

Having to learn something brand new is very hard for people and can be overwhelming. “By calling the Jewish Federation and asking through our JCRN program, they are able to speak with Kim, who then gives them a little bit of a start.” With the relationships that Kim has developed with a lot of organizations, “it allows for the community to turn to itself, into the Jewish community, providing them something that a community should be able to help with.” JCRN: (626) 445-0810 or email

Ronna Mandel is a contributing writer to JLife. You can find her blog at


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