JFSA Life Director and former Board Chair Bill Wortzman grew up in the inner city of Cleveland in the 1940’s with his mother, two brothers, and a sister. “My mother had a full plate,” explains Bill, whose brothers both had mental illness. “In those days if you had children that were mentally ill, you didn’t talk about it. You kept it in the closet. The emotions that you felt as a parent were not able to be expressed.” But Bill’s mother was able to get help from JFSA. “That weekly visit meant everything to my mother,” says Bill who remembers taking a street car and two buses to the JFSA offices at Huron and 6th Street every week. The agency offered much more than counseling. “We were on welfare. I remember JFSA helping us with food and clothing. They helped my brothers.” As Bill got older he craved independence. “As a teenager I thought, ‘I’m never going to ask for help. I’m going to make sure that I can stand tall. I’m going to go to college and get an education’,” explains Bill. “But I didn’t have a dime to go to college.”
Ultimately Bill did turn to JFSA and received a grant which helped him pay for college. “It allowed me to achieve the independence I was looking for,” says Bill. After graduating with two degrees and becoming a successful businessman, Bill decided it was time to give back and volunteer at local nonprofits, including JFSA. “It felt so meaningful because I had come full circle. Here was an organization that had done so much for me, and I felt I had an obligation to help them.” Bill has since established several funds at JFSA, including a scholarship and endowment fund to support mental health programming. He says that although he once felt embarrassed, he now feels pride about his association with JFSA.
Bill also spends personal time with clients as a volunteer delivering Rosh Hashana gift bags to isolated elderly clients on JFSA’s Mitzvah Day. Bill spends extra time with each client, helping to make their holiday a little brighter with conversation along with the gift bag. In addition, Bill leads the effort to raise funds to pay for each gift bag. Last year over 80 gift bags were delivered to clients by individuals. Thank you Bill for all you do for JFSA!