Last week, I published a letter from a different type of Jewish single. I published a letter from Pinny, who told us the unfortunate situation that he and his children are in. Pinny’s wife – the mother of his children – left the family and him, and that was it. Pinny was left to be mother and father, and only had his close family to rely on for help. He concentrated on getting his children the help they needed and then concentrated on himself and adjusting to their new life. Pinny wasn’t seeking dating advice for a divorced father; he was complaining that he felt the frum community wasn’t doing enough for him and others like him – divorced, single parents. He even wrote, “I am here to beg people to look around them, and if they know of a family such as mine – where a spouse has left – don’t just think, ‘They’re probably okay. They have their father. He’s working. They have what they need.’ My children and I will be okay, but we were from ‘okay’ months ago. Don’t only give to those who have suffered an ‘acceptable family trauma’ such as death. Families in a situation as mine need their neighbors’ assistance just as much; but I feel that because we aren’t your typical nebach case, we are ignored. It’s wrong. My children and I need help – both socially, emotionally, and financially.”
Pinny was begging for help for his family, but all he was able to find was “mental health assistance.” He felt that because his wife didn’t pass away from an illness and his family story didn’t fit the narrative of the “typical sad case,” there was no help available for him or his children. People weren’t bringing over meals or inviting them out for yamim tovim, etc. Pinny’s email got me thinking, and thus the whole trajectory of my life changed.
It took a moment to gather my thoughts and start thinking creatively for Pinny and his children regarding what is out there for frum, divorced, single parents – both fathers and mothers seeking help. But look at what we have here: a frum father of three, on his own, claiming the frum organizations he has turned to for help haven’t been of help because, in Pinny’s opinion, his wife chose to leave and wasn’t sick and didn’t pass away from an illness.
I began researching different organizations in the frum community that specifically aided single-parent families. I called all the popular organizations that first come to mind when anyone hears of a family in crisis; I will not name any of the organizations here because the point of this article isn’t to disparage any organization or to chastise them, but to help single frum parents find the help they are seeking. I called two of the most prominent organizations that come to mind when you hear of people in Pinny’s situation. Over the course of three days, I left two voicemail messages and sent emails on the organizations’ websites. My message was simple: I was a friend of someone who is divorced and is struggling on all fronts. I asked if someone could call me with some information that I can pass along to him.
As I said, after three days, my calls were finally returned. A woman called from one of the agencies I contacted. I explained Pinny’s situation, asking for assistance for my “friend.” She very proudly told me about the organization’s mental health department. I told her that my friend has counseling for himself and his children, and I asked what else her agency has to offer. She told me there was a program that was funded by ACS (Administration for Children’s Services) and she can offer case management for the children. But this wasn’t an ACS type of case! I asked about support groups for the father and the children. I asked about a program that helps out single-parent families, even helping to run errands so the parent isn’t left running errands at the end of the day in addition to getting home in time to help with homework or dinner. I was told that her organization didn’t have such a program.
A representative from the second organization I emailed responded to my original email almost a week after I sent it. I was told about mental health counseling that the children can be enrolled in. It took two more days of emailing back and forth to find out that this organization really assisted mothers, “not fathers,” and referred me to an organization that may be able to assist my friend Pinny. I contacted this third organization, which I had heard of but isn’t as popular as the first two organizations. Their story was the same as the other two organizations. Everyone is in such a rush to get the children enrolled in therapy, which is great, but after that, it seems as if the ball is dropped.
Finally, I called a friend of mine who works in a yeshivah as the school psychologist. I asked her what can be done for a parent such as Pinny, if she has sessions with children from divorced families and, if so, what she is able to do and offer the child and parent. I should have called my friend first, because she had the answer to my/Pinny’s question. My friend told me about an organization that she works for, part time, which is exactly what Pinny and other single frum parents need.
My Extended Family (MYEF) is the name of the organization. It was started about five years ago in Flatbush, but has branches in the Five Towns, Crown Heights, and Monsey, as well. They offer club nights weekly for children; each branch has a boys’ and girls’ division. Each club night lasts about an hour and a half, and the children are paired with a Big Brother or Big Sister who stays with them throughout the year; homework assistance is offered, as well as supper and an hour’s worth of an activity. Children get support and get to have fun with others who can understand their situation because they are in the same one with their family. Trips during Chol HaMoed and in the middle of the winter are planned, there are Chanukah and Purim parties, and the organization makes sure that each child’s birthday is celebrated in a big way. They make the children feel special when they may not get to feel special at home.
But what about the parents? How can Pinny and others be helped by MYEF? I was told that the organization offers Yom Tov assistance to parents with grocery bills, provides money to help with some of the expenses such as buying school supplies (which can add up), children’s clothing, etc. Additionally, parenting workshops are offered a few times a year. This is what Pinny was referring to when he said, “Mi k’amcha Yisrael.” The more my friend spoke, the more I wanted to hear about My Extended Family. My friend took my interest seriously and spoke of me, my qualifications, and my experience with the Executive Director of MYEF.
It all happened so quickly. Within two weeks, I had three Zoom interviews and was hired. I had not been to my office in Boro Park since the Monday after Purim because of COVID. I had been working from home, but I felt that I owed it to my boss, the CEO who had believed in me not only by hiring me fresh out of graduate school, but promoting me twice personally, to submit my resignation letter giving two weeks’ notice to him in person. I traveled to Boro Park, walked through the familiar entryway, and walked down the familiar hall, smiling and waving to co-workers I had not seen in months. I submitted my letter of resignation and went to my office with a large box to clean out my office of personal belongings. It was the last time I was there, in the walls that I had called home for 17 years.
I was awestruck by what My Extended Family is doing. And I was humbled by how accepting the employees were to accept me into their organization. Here I am: someone new, and hired to manage 80 percent of the staff straight off the bat. But they all welcomed me and offered me assistance in any way I needed it. Last year, MYEF had 235 children enrolled. As of two days ago, close to 400 children are enrolled from 270 families. It was trial by fire when I joined the team because it was in the middle of the summer; they were gearing up for their open houses. It’s their kickoff events for the year, and they were trying to secure locations for their club nights – but we are in the middle of COVID. My task was securing locations for the open houses and club nights – no big deal, right? But, baruch Hashem, shuls, yeshivos, and people opened up their doors to us. We actually have a girls’ club night in the backyard of a very generous and kind family. They didn’t want the girls not to have a meeting place, so they gave their own house, as well as daughter, to volunteer for MYEF.
Many of the administrators were raised in divorced homes and wished there was an organization such as this one to help them when they were young children (between the ages of 7 and 12), when they needed help dealing with what they were feeling, because they know how hard it can be for a single parent to be responsible for everything. There is so much more that this organization provides besides clinical services. They provide fun, love, and support for the children and the parents. The more I learned about them, the more I admired them, and that is why I made the switch from where I had worked to MYEF.
We are starting a social media campaign to spread the word, and this is exactly what I am doing – spreading the word. There is talk of a branch coming to Kew Gardens Hills within the next year or so. That was on the table before I joined the organization, but you know I will be pushing for it.
I’m not saying that this organization is for everyone, but I’m saying that it is worth a call or a visit to their website to find out. Their website is myextendedfamily.org. You can find their mission and vision and exactly what services they offer in each of their branches.
Hatzlachah to you all!