In the spirit of Hanukkah, we spoke with Caryn Brissman about the incredible work she does at The ARK, a faith-based organization that provides a range of life-changing services to Jewish individuals. As the Director of Marketing and Development, Caryn spreads The ARK’s mission around the world and works to garner donations to ensure their programming can continue helping those in need.
What inspired your mission?
Our organization started in 1971 as a partnership between a doctor, a rabbi, and Jewish community leaders. They saw a need for high quality, free medical care to help populations who couldn’t afford it, and decided to open a free clinic in Chicago. Now, we’ve grown to include medical services, dental care, pharmaceutical options, a food pantry, financial counseling, employment services, and spiritual enrichment. We even have an intensive day program for mental health counseling to create support groups for Jewish individuals. We want to help people in the way that they want to be helped. If someone needs groceries for a month because they’re in between jobs, then we provide that. If someone needs long-term medical care for an illness, we help with that too. Although we are a faith-based organization that aims to assist people who identify as Jewish, we will always help someone if they show up needing our care.
What is the best part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is when I speak with donors who are former ARK clients. Hearing their stories and the profound difference we have been able to make in their lives is so powerful. Everyone at The ARK has a story to tell, and knowing that our clients’ quality of life improved to the extent that they can now provide us with financial support is really inspiring. Since we are a faith-based organization, we can’t rely on on funding from big corporations in the way other non-profits can. That means we are even more reliant on donations from individuals, which is a huge part of my job. When someone who The ARK has served helps us later in life, everything in my job comes together.
What Hanukkah plans do you have for your clients?
In normal years, we have the Hanukkah Gift Wishes where families can sponsor a client to purchase gifts off of their wish list. This year, because of COVID, we are translating that program into gift cards for our clients. We’re also delivering a free, hot meal for individuals or families to celebrate the holiday. We were lucky enough to get a donation from Subaru to provide blankets for all our clients that will be sent with a gift basket including a menorah, candles, gelt, and a dreidel. Our volunteers are delivering baskets to around 1,500 individuals around the city to ensure everyone has the tools they need to celebrate Hanukkah.
How has COVID affected the need for medical services for Jewish people?
There has definitely been an increase in demand for certain services since the pandemic started, and I expect that the demand will continue to grow as the world opens up more and people feel more comfortable leaving their homes to seek help from us. The need for financial help and pharmacy needs have quadrupled since March, and we’ve had a huge influx of clients who have lost their health insurance. We are happy to help our clients in these challenging times, and will continue to support them for as long as it takes for them to become self-reliant.