And the Fammy goes to: JFCS awards honor volunteers, longtime director Anita Friedman

Jewish Family and Children’s Services Executive Director Anita Friedman looks forward to her organization honoring her for 30 years of service. But it’s not because she needs the accolades. It’s because JFCS’ 25th annual Fammy Awards will raise much-needed emergency funds to assist people impacted by the slumping economy

Charlie Spiegel

“We are focusing on raising emergency money to help families who through no fault of their own are in trouble because of the recession,” she says. “We have a 50 percent [case load] increase, with seven to 10 additional cases a day.”

The Fammy Awards take place Sunday, March 7 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in San Francisco. In addition to Friedman –– who will accept the JFCS Board of Directors Distinguished Humanitarian Services Award –– honorees include lawyer and LGBT activist Charlie Spiegel, and longtime JFCS volunteers Jane and Michael Rice

Anita Friedman

Normally the Fammy Awards raise money for the more than 40 programs at the S.F.-based JFCS, which provides social services to nearly 60,000 families and individuals across the Bay Area.

But this time, all proceeds from the fundraiser will support emergency services for families, children and the elderly.

“I’ve been here 30 years and this is the worst and most challenging situation we’ve ever faced,” Friedman says. “It’s beyond what we could have imagined because of the sheer numbers. It affects families at all income levels, not just families on the edge but families who thought life was stable.

Looking back over 30 years with the agency, Friedman says her biggest satisfaction has been demonstrating “what the Jewish community looks like when we practice what we preach. When we talk about valuing every human life, intergenerational responsibility, my work all these years has been to put those values into practice.”

The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Friedman says her family’s story played a big role in her ultimate choice of profession.

“Having come from a family who came to this country with nothing, having received no help, made it clear to me that the community needed to become stronger and more capable of protecting its members.”

Michael and Jane Rice

She is quick to credit JFCS staff and volunteers who do the everyday work. Among them is co-honoree Charlie Spiegel, a San Francisco attorney who first turned to the agency when he sought to adopt a child with his then-partner in 1997, something not as common among gay and lesbian couples then as it is today.

“JFCS did the home study for our adoption,” Spiegel recalls. “They took the imprimatur of their state license and said a gay or lesbian couple can provide the same things a heterosexual couple can provide.”

Spiegel, 50, was so impressed and grateful, he began helping the agency with legal matters related to LGBT adoption. Eventually he left a career as a real estate attorney to become an adoption lawyer specializing in gay and lesbian families.

“What I’ve been doing is preaching their name as a really caring and compassionate adoption agency,” he says. “People call it the adoption roller coaster, but JFCS makes a big difference on that roller coaster, helping people deal with the ups and downs.”

As JFCS volunteers, Fammy recipients Jane and Michael Rice have done the same, only in different realms.

In addition to being longtime donors to the agency, the San Francisco couple pitches in with the popular Chicken-soupers program, bringing hot meals to elderly and infirm JFCS clients. Jane also volunteers for the agency’s Holocaust survivor program, Café by the Bay, and provides home visits to a senior living on a fixed income.

“We were looking to do things that meant something,” says Michael, who works as an urban planner. “We picked JFCS because it was in San Francisco and involved with the Jewish community.”

Michael is a second-generation volunteer. He was born in Paris because his father, a social worker, devoted his life to helping the Jewish community in Europe (at the time he worked the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee resettling Holocaust refugees).

But he credits his wife, a retired teacher of English as a second language, for taking the lead on volunteering. “She’s really the reason we’re getting the Fammy,” he says, “but they had to give it to both of us.”

He’s no slouch, though. They two have put in more than their fare share of volunteer hours since 2000. Rice urges others in the Jewish community to pitch in. “If you can do something even part of one day a week,” he says, “you can contribute mightily.”

Friedman more than echoes the sentiment.

“JFCS has over 2,000 volunteers,” she says, “people who provide direct service, are on the board and the committees, and that’s what makes me want to be there. I stayed for 30 years because most people spend all their lives searching to work with a team of people on behalf of a cause. The kind of people attracted to JFCS is what makes it possible to say there, and these honorees are examples.”

Jewish Family and Children’s Services’ 25th Annual Fammy Awards dinner and fundraiser takes place 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 600 Stockton St., S.F. Information: (415) 499-1256.

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Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.