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December 12, 2003 - Image 47

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-12-12

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From Russia,

Director cites growth and broader services as
Washtenaw IFS marks 10th anniversary.


Special to the Jewish News

Ann Arbor


hen Anya Abramzon
came to Jewish Family
Services of Washtenaw
County as an intern
in 1994, she was a University of
Michigan social work master's stu-
dent. JFS was a small program just
starting out, but Abramzon saw its
Now, Abramzon, JFS director
since 1997, can look back on the
growth of the program she has
helped nurture and the team she
has helped develop to guide the
organization over the past six years.
JFS, which celebrates its 10th
anniversary this year, is a social
service agency providing a wide
range of programs, from mental
health to vocational, from English
as a Second Language (ESL) to
adoption. JFS works with older
adults, newly arrived immigrants
and individuals from all back-
grounds in search of assistance,
serving people from more than 30
countries in vocational services
Under Abramzon's leadership,
JFS has grown from one staff mem-
ber to nine staff positions, an advi-
sory board and a host of volun-
teers, who serve as everything from
drivers for the elderly to conversa-
tion partners and ESL teachers.
Abramzon, who came to the
United States in 1990 from Russia
with a degree in history and law,
said dedicated individuals in social
and human service work first
encouraged her to get involved.
They empowered her to take on
the challenges of living and achiev-
ing in a new country, and she
decided to go back to school for

her master's degree in social work
in 1994, juggling school, intern-
ship and family.
"I experienced firsthand how
tough it is to be an immigrant,"
she said. "I had to learn English
and work very hard to acclimate to
living in a new country. It's one
thing being a tourist and another
to know that tomorrow you have
to get up and go to work and sup-
port yourself.
"But I never regretted that I
made this decision — I think the
biggest struggle of immigration is
that people don't feel that they
belong anywhere. I think that with
the path I chose, it wasn't just
employment, it was a place I could
belong," she said.

A Safety Net

Abramzon has passed that sense of
belonging on to others.
"Each member of the staff may
be responsible for one program but
we all work together; it's a very
teamwork-based organization," said
David Cohen of Ann Arbor, JFS
director of development and com-
munity outreach since August.
He has one concern: People may
think of JFS solely as a resettle-
ment organization. While that was
the genesis of the organization, he
feels social services have always
been needed as well.
"Every day, this office is full of
clients and it's really amazing," he
said. "People keep coming back
every day, all day. They come in
and they learn, they do their class-
work; there's food here for them,
they can meet with the career
counselor or use the computers and
fax machines to look for jobs. They
spend all day here and they can

WITH LOVE on page 48

Anya Abramzon, Washtenaw JFS director



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