Senior services icon bids adieu to JFCS East Bay

Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay is saying goodbye to a “brilliant counselor and consultant” — Ada Burko, the director of the agency’s Older Adult Services for the past 10 years.

Ada Burko

While her decision to step down will allow her devote more time to working with older adults in private practice, and develop her concepts for integrated care of seniors, JFCS East Bay won’t have an easy time replacing her.

“Ada leaving is going to be a challenge,” said Lisa Yordy, the client services coordinator at JFCS. “She’s done so much in so many different areas. She’s done amazing work in the fundraising and development part of it, she’s done huge program development, she’s a brilliant counselor and consultant, and she’s offered really good guidance to the clinicians here.

“She’s definitely our go-to person whenever we have a really tough case.”

Ada Burko, longtime director of Older Adult Services at Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay, counsels two older-adult clients. photos/courtesy of jfcs east bay

Burko said goodbye at a well-attended farewell party on Jan. 7, and her last day on the job was Dec. 31.

“I’m going to be on my own now and do therapy with older adults and their families, do some consulting with families, and not do care management,” Burko said in an interview. “I hope to get a geriatric physician and, perhaps, a neurologist to work with. When people need observation from more than one professional, we can work as a team.”

Born and raised in Israel, Burko studied film and theater, but found opportunities in those fields sparse. A film project sparked her interest in working with older adults and led her all the way to U.C. Berkeley, where she got a master’s degree in social work.

“In 1976, I was still in Israel, and I was assigned to research and write the script for a documentary on older adults, and I just found my groove,” Burko said. “I felt so good with older adults. I never had grandparents on my father’s side — they got killed in the war. On my mother’s side, I was very young when my grandparents died. I never really had grandparents, and I guess that’s part of it.”

After earning an M.A. in social welfare, with a specialization in gerontology, from U.C. Berkeley, Burko managed older adult service programs at the Home for Jewish Parents in Oakland, the JCC of San Francisco and two other agencies starting in 1982.

After joining JFCS East Bay in 1999, she became a driving force behind many older-adult services, most notably care management and Holocaust survivor programs. She also was responsible for opening the Suse Moyal Center for Older Adult Services in Albany in March 2005.

In nearly three decades of serving the older Jewish community, Burko learned a lot about providing services for the elderly. She shared some of her reflections and opinions:

• On Holocaust survivors: “As the survivors have grown older, they’ve become frail and need more help. Some older adults have issues with losing control of their bodies and their lives and moving into institutions, but if you look at Holocaust survivors, and their associations with institutions for them, it brings back so many traumatic feelings, that it’s harder.”

• On the JFCS East Bay’s Holocaust survivor services: “The program originated in helping people find restitution and being the go-between. [It evolved into] doing it all: providing care management, providing for the [senior] and keeping them in their own homes. The program is now two and a half times as large as it was 10 years ago in terms of the population and the amount of work that’s being done.”

• On how to reach decisions about an elderly client, such as whether to keep him or her in their own home: “You don’t [just] look at the older adult as the client. It’s the whole family. Connection, communication and advocacy are what you do. You help the family and older adults identify what the most important issues are: creating good communication among family members and help them, step by step, move from the place where they are in the crisis, to help resolve the issues.”

• On dealing with the family: “You also help the family strategically create boundaries — you take the whole family by the hand and help them through the crisis into some kind of stable situation. Some families came in just to work on family issues.”

• On fundraising: “The whole idea of a business approach to nonprofits is not a new idea. We identified care management as one of the most important services that we need to define and market. It’s a huge job, and we have to charge for it, so we created a business plan, so we could decide that those who can’t pay for the service will be able to be subsidized by the people who can pay. We can’t always rely on donations — we can have more revenues from that to support other services.”

Looking back, Burko is proud of the work she’s done, and is relishing new challenges.

Above all, she strongly believes in JFCS East Bay, and she encourages people to support its mission.

“I think we are among the best,” she said. “I want to be sure that everybody understands that there’s still much to be done, and there’s never enough funding to do it. The need is huge, and people want to count on us to provide services. It would be helpful if we could get a little more help to support our programs.”