Today, Jewish Family Services (JFS) announced its collaborative effort to support Ukrainian Citizens bound for WNY. Russia’s invasion has displaced more than ten million. JFS is proud to be working with Jewish Federations of North America, The Shapiro Foundation, and other key partners who provided matching funds support.

On the heels of continuing efforts to resettle Afghan evacuees earlier this year, JFS monitored the incredulous decision by Russia to invade its sovereign neighbor, the Republic of Ukraine. Along with the casualties of the invasion and the destruction of many cities and villages, more than ten million Ukrainians have been displaced by the war. For many, they were forced to the eastern part of the country and for many others, they have left the country entirely to take refuge in neighboring countries like Poland, who has taken in more than five million of their neighbors.

In April, the Biden Administration announced that 100,000 Ukrainians would enter the United States through a program called Uniting for Ukraine. Unlike refugee programs or the Afghan evacuee program, this program does not offer traditional resettlement services to arriving Ukrainians. This federal program allows those with a fiscal sponsor to enter the country on a two-year humanitarian parole status. Fiscal sponsors take on the responsibility of housing and financial needs of those entering the country.

“We are proud that the US government is offering this opportunity to provide temporary protection for Ukrainian refugees early in the conflict. The private sponsorship model is complementary to the traditional work we do in refugee resettlement and JFS looks forward to building new and strengthening relationships with community partners and private citizens who want to extend a hand to our Ukrainian brothers and sisters.” Said Dr. Molly Carr, Chief Executive Officer of JFS. “Sponsorship Circles allow JFS to work with teams of volunteers to provide extended support while also ensuring that professional JFS staff are available to provide trauma care and counseling.”

Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) took the lead in establishing the initiative announced today and collaborated with The Shapiro Foundation. Together, they approached JFS with a funding offer to provide the resources needed to build sponsorship circles and provide Ukrainian arrivals with behavioral health services. Sponsorship circles are groups of five or more individuals who come together with financial and in-kind goods and time to assist Ukrainian arrivals and their formal sponsor through the Uniting for Ukraine program.

Buffalo is one of six initial locations throughout the country that JFNA and The Shapiro Foundation approached for this humanitarian project. It is the smallest location compared to the other five and speaks to the strength of Buffalo’s resettlement community and JFS’ strong partnership with JFNA, The Shapiro Foundation, and our local Jewish and Ukrainian organizations.

“We are able to leverage our expertise and long history of supporting refugees from the former Soviet Union and more recently those evacuated from Afghanistan to help Jewish communities support Ukrainian refugees seeking safety,” said Darcy Hirsh, Managing Director of Public Affairs at Jewish Federations of North America. “We are especially grateful to the Shapiro Foundation for their partnership in this initiative, to provide our communities with the proper resources, tools and support to be able to open their doors to those in need.”

As is common, the funders requested a matching local fundraising effort. A collaboration between the Buffalo Jewish Federation, Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, and an anonymous local philanthropist helped to successfully achieve the match, bringing the overall total to $250,000.

“We are extremely proud that JFNA and The Shapiro Foundation have once again chosen our community and Jewish Family Services to invest its resources in order to assist our newest Buffalonians,” said Rob Goldberg, CEO of the Buffalo Jewish Federation. “It speaks directly to their confidence in the capacity and ability of JFS to deliver quality support to these individuals and families.”

The financial resources will allow JFS to provide expert resources for legal technical support, hire a Ukraine sponsorship coordinator to help with the formation of sponsorship circles, and hire a mental health counselor to aid Ukrainians with the impacts of the trauma they have experienced.

Last week, JFS held two information sessions for parties interested in becoming formal fiscal sponsors and navigating the federal Uniting for Ukraine process. The sessions covered the basic elements of the sponsorship agreement, a sponsor’s commitment, and the legal process. The sessions took place at the Ukrainian American Civic Center on Military Road and at the Dnipro Ukrainian Cultural Center on Genesee Street. Additional sessions are planned for August 2nd and August 4th at 6:00 p.m.

In attendance at today’s press conference were US Representative Brian Higgins (D-26) and NYS Senator Tim Kennedy (D-63). Their presence and support of the initiative provides focus for the Western New York Region as well as an opportunity to continue to underscore Buffalo’s kindness towards immigrants and refugees. These sentiments are reflected in their words and those of NYS Senator Sean Ryan (D-60).

“The Western New York Community has a long history of welcoming immigrants and refugees. Additionally, we have a significant Ukrainian population that has continued to support their families, friends, and fellow Ukrainians overseas as Russia wages a war against its sovereign neighbor,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “As Western New York opens its arms to Ukrainian citizens, we are confident that Jewish Family Services and the Shapiro Foundation will provide displaced families with the resources they need to make a smooth transition once they arrive in Buffalo.

“For decades, Buffalo has served a beacon of hope for the refugee community, providing critical resettlement opportunities and support to individuals and families around the world. This new partnership will enable Jewish Family Services to build on that commitment and foster a secure, responsive space for people fleeing Ukraine and seeking safety,” said Senator Tim Kennedy.” “I applaud JFS, JFNA, The Shapiro Foundation, and the many other unsung heroes and organizations who continue to actively assist refugees across Western New York and connect them with the resources they desperately need.”

“In Buffalo, we take pride in our reputation as a haven for displaced people from around the world, and we have our incredible refugee resettlement agencies to thank for that reputation. For years, Jewish Family Services has taken on much of that important work, helping people who have come to Buffalo from around the world acclimate to life in a new country,” said Senator Sean Ryan, adding “when Russia invaded Ukraine, the Western New York Community stood side-by-side and continues to stand with our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. This partnership will ensure that those forced to flee their homes in Ukraine will be able to seek refuge here in Western New York, where I have no doubt that they will be welcomed with open arms.”

Those interested in becoming a fiscal sponsor or learning more about forming sponsorship circles can visit JFS’ web site, and click on the Uniting for Ukraine button on the home page.