Marks JCH Ukraine Crisis Response Center: Accelerated Need, Deepening Concerns

By Gelena Blishteyn
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The Marks JCH has welcomed and provided relief services to an influx of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the horrors of an escalating war. As the United States continues to welcome Uniting for Ukraine (U4U) applicants, we are stepping up to meet a dramatically accelerated need. NYS’s most recent data, notes that of the more than 18,000 U4U-approved applications for NYS more than 45% have resettled in Brooklyn.

With over 2,000 refugees served by the Marks JCH, we are seeing an ever-increasing number of clients and a deepening of needs. The major challenges facing this already fragile and displaced population include:

  • An anticipated 6-month wait for work authorizations, halting refugees’ abilities to rebuild their lives and provide for their families in the U.S.
  • Lack of affordable housing in NYC, while the Marks JCH has assisted clients in securing housing and even providing payments through our emergency cash assistance funds, the wait for work authorizations is causing an inability to maintain long-term housing
  • Rise of mental health and trauma, for the first few months upon arriving clients are in survival mode focused on securing basic necessities. Slowly trauma begins to creep in and take over daily life, in particular among refugee youth
  • Childcare, while Marks JCH was able to develop and launch a carefully crafted summer camp program for refugee youth, Sunflower Camp, clients now face the prospect of figuring out year-round care with meager funds

We, at the Marks JCH, continue, to work tirelessly to meet these new and growing concerns with urgency – providing comprehensive resettlement services including, social service supports, onsite legal clinics and referrals, financial counseling, emergency cash assistance, mental health support, and more with our many partners and allies in this work, spearheaded by the generosity of the UJA Federation of NY.

In addition, we continue to adjust our service provision and support strategies accordingly. At the same time, clients await the work authorizations we have taken this time to prepare and support them in their eventual workforce integration. Many of the Ukrainians arriving at our doorstep have limited or zero English language skills. We have added six new Level 0 ESOL classes for Ukrainian refugees. We are enrolling refugee clients in our vocational training programs and courses, partnering them with volunteer English conversation partners and mentors to assist with networking, work applications, resume development, and others. Through a unique partnership with The STEM Alliance, we have provided digital literacy skills, equipment, and connectivity to Ukrainian refugees. More than 250 refugees have been served through these efforts – supporting their path towards self-sufficiency.


Our Sunflower Camp and year-round childcare programs were designed to serve the specific needs of the Ukrainian refugee youth. Sunflower Camp, which was subsided through the generosity of the UJA Federation of NY and J.E. & Z.B. Butler Foundation, welcomed over 7o campers ages 2-14 years old (in addition to our existing summer camps that served more than 600 campers this summer alone) providing English literacy skills, interactive activities with culturally and linguistically competent staff, a supportive community of peers in addition to exploring exciting NYC locations. One of Sunflower Camp families was recently featured in a Daily News article.

These unique childcare programs, staffed by our professional team as well as numerous refugee staff themselves, provide a caring environment for displaced youth and allows parents an opportunity to participate in workforce training and other services knowing their children are well-cared for. As one of the refugee staff members of Sunflower Camp shared “without this opportunity I (and my children) would be lost, sitting at home and stuck in a loop of hopelessness. Here we have community, friendships, and a path forward.”

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