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JFSA women eager to help homeless shelter

Jean Fedigan, executive director of the Sister Jose Women’s Center (left) and Lean Avuno, a Tucson shinshinim volunteer from Israel, spoke at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Women’s Philanthropy annual welcome Sept. 28.

When we work together, when we reach out to the least among us, we improve the lives of others while enriching our own lives and our community, Jean Fedigan, executive director of the Sister Jose Women’s Center, told about 90 people attending the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Women’s Philanthropy annual welcome event on Sept. 28 at the Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort.

Fedigan’s message embodies the Women’s Philanthropy mission of working to transform lives and deliver hope, dignity and comfort to people at home, in Israel and around the world. The Federation chose Sister Jose Women’s Center, a nonprofit serving homeless women, as the focus for its 70th anniversary mitzvah project.

“I started working with homeless women nine years ago and I have gotten to know their names and their circumstances and how they got where they were,” said Fedigan, who was a nurse for 25 years. While their stories vary widely, all the women suffer through extremes of weather, are vulnerable to violence and sex trafficking and receive inadequate medical care. “Even though they face physical hunger and thirst, they also hunger for compassion, dignity and respect,” Fedigan said. “We know the women’s names, we listen to their stories and we try to get them help through various agencies.”

The center provides food, clothing, showers, personal hygiene items, overnight stays in the winter and help with getting medical care and jobs. The average age of women is 45 to 55, with the oldest aged 82. The center needs volunteers along with donations of clothing, shoes, personal care items, bedding and housekeeping products such as detergent, paper towels and dish soap. The center will be moving into a 9,000-square-foot facility in February.

Joyce Stuehringer, chair of Women’s Philanthropy, says everyone at the meeting was touched by hearing about these women in need. “We are looking forward to being part of this mitzvah project,” says Stuehringer. “I feel a sense of excitement that we can help because, as Jews, this is how we act out our values.”

“Hopefully, throughout the year, we can do things to help the women at Sister Jose,” says Dana Goldstein, social action co-chair of Women’s Philanthropy. “The women in our group are always willing to help and asking what they can do.” Goldstein says they plan to help with donating items for the new building and perhaps do an art project that will be a symbol of hope.

Women’s Philanthropy thanked its outgoing board members and welcomed the 2016-2017 board members at the event.  The evening also provided a forum for the women to meet Leah Avuno, one of two Israeli teens selected as the Weintraub Israel Center’s shinshinim, who will be doing a year of volunteer service in Tucson, with an emphasis on teaching local children about life in Israel.

Avuno spoke briefly at the meeting. Originally from Ethiopia, she now lives in Kiryat Malachi. As a child it took her a while to get accustomed to Israeli culture, but she says she is now “one hundred percent Israeli.” She first met Americans when a group visited Kiryat Malachi on a Birthright mission. “I was surprised to find that Americans are so similar to me and that we both like and care about Israel,” Avuno said.