This is an exciting year for the Center for Senior Services (CSS), celebrating our 50th anniversary! B’nai B’rith sponsors Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) affordable housing across the country and currently our network comprises 38 buildings and serves about 5,000 people, making us the largest national Jewish sponsor of subsidized housing in the United States. B’nai B’rith’s housing footprint is across the country with buildings from New York to California, down to Florida and everywhere in between. We began providing HUD-assisted senior housing in 1971, when we opened our first sponsored building B’nai B’rith Apartments in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Not bad for fifty years!
Our housing network isn’t just about ribbon cutting ceremonies; it’s so much more. Mark D. Olshan, associate executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International and director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services, was responsible for expanding our annual Conference on Senior Housing and starting our onsite staff training for management professionals. These trainings are a great opportunity for the B’nai B’rith housing community to come together, network with each other, and hear from experts in the field on how to make our individual buildings the best they can be for our residents.
Mark is also responsible for starting the bi-annual Resident Leadership Retreat, operating since 1987. This retreat not only connects fellow resident leaders throughout the B’nai B’rith housing network but provides many tools to strengthen their communities back home. Residents participate in intensive, day-long workshops regarding resident councils and by-laws, address language and culture barriers, communicate with management, publish a newsletter, spend time with campers doing intergenerational programing and more.
Since these programs’ inception, Janel Doughten, associate director of the Center for Senior Services, has taken over coordinating them, adding to the content and therefore value to the participants. Under Janel and our late co-worker Gene Fogel’s leadership, the annual staff training was expanded from just the managers to additional onsite staff including assistant managers, activity coordinators and service coordinators and is now called the B’nai B’rith Managers and Service Coordinators Training. The retreat was also expanded from three days to seven. These changes have provided for significantly more programing and training for additional staff and residents to bring back to their buildings. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all training has moved to a virtual platform and has expanded to include a weekly Zoom meeting with the onsite building staff. Sharing ideas and best practices—especially during a nationwide emergency—is one of the main benefits of being part of our housing network.
During the year CSS will be highlighting our housing community through our media platforms. Expect video conversations between B’nai B’rith staff and volunteers discussing our organization’s rich history with affordable housing and the Resident Leadership Retreat. We intend on spotlighting our sponsored properties with fun facts and pictures, and interviews of our building’s board members and staff. Some of our staff and volunteers have been with the buildings since their creation. Also, it’s possible current B’nai B’rith residents could make an appearance to say hello and share their experiences.
Clearly there is lots to talk about and we are excited to share!
I have been privileged working at B’nai B’rith for the past four years, however my colleagues Mark and Janel have worked at the organization for 37 and 28 years, respectively. They rightfully talk about our senior housing program with pride. I hope during CSS’ 100th anniversary we will be able to highlight even more accomplishments in the name of affordable senior housing.
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