The energy in Janet Kurland’s voice leaves a listener little doubt as to why the 88-year-old spent half of her life serving seniors through her dedicated work at Jewish Community Services (formerly Jewish Family Services).
She loved her job and she loved helping people. It’s that simple.
“It’s been a remarkable journey. And you don’t do it alone, you depend on the people around you and I’ve been blessed. And I don’t say that lightly,” Kurland said after what she called “the most beautiful retirement party.”
“It was very special. They invited a lot of people. My family-family came and my professional family came from all over,” she added. “I don’t know how many people were there, but it was packed.”
And it’s no wonder, over her 42 years at JCS, Kurland worked with and for many people, shaping programs in the children’s and family services divisions, founding the Northwest Senior Center (now the Myerberg Center) and expanding the agency’s fledgling outreach efforts.
“It is hard to conceive of JCS without Janet,” JCS executive director Joan Grayson Cohen said in a statement. “Janet has devoted the past 42 years to improving the lives of so many in our community. She has been a mentor to professionals throughout her career and leaves a remarkable legacy at JCS and in the greater Baltimore community.”
Kurland grew up on Smallwood Street in West Baltimore, attended Western High School and earned degrees at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work. She worked at Jewish Family Services in the 1950s and ’60s, then stayed home to raise her two children.
“I got a phone call in September ’76 to come back and create a senior center,” she recalled. “In those days, the only center in Baltimore was the Waxter Center, which is downtown. We started in a storefront, where Tov Pizza is. We were half of that store and a small little kosher grocery store was the other half. And that small little grocery store became Seven Mile Market. And we became the Myerberg Center.”
Kurland watched the world of senior services grow and evolve.
“In those days, remember it’s 1976, when you went to a conference on gerontology, there were three people in the audience. Literally three,” she said. “And then the world began to change. So, there we were, learning every single day, going to classes. Now, we’re living longer, the problems are different, but gerontology’s a big-time world right now. Women are in the workplace and those are the caregivers, so the whole caregiving issue has changed.”
Kurland helped get the kosher Eating Together program started in the Weinberg senior complexes and helped start the agency’s bereavement program. She wrote papers and training manuals, including one for managers of senior housing and trained 300 managers from across the state. For 20 of those years she also taught in the aging programs at Johns Hopkins School of Continuing Education, as well as at Towson University and the University of Maryland School of Social Work — and “loved it.”
“It’s a whole new world that has developed and I feel like we sort of grew with it,” she said.
After founding the senior center and working as assistant director of older adult services she decided she’d had enough of administrative jobs.
“I needed to just be clinical if I could, so that I could be used in a different way. The agency had a little program called senior resources that nobody ever heard of, and I took that,” she recalled. “The first thing we did was get a bunch of mugs that said senior resources and Jewish services on it, filled them with kosher candy and literature and took them to every single doctor’s office in the area — and it started to grow. We began to realize that people are going to be living longer and complications are happening. So, we’re here to help you get through what you have to get through, because we’re all part of it. Whether you’re the family or the senior, we need some help.”
Now, Kurland said on her last day as a senior care specialist, “when the phone rings, in the whole system, and someone says ‘I have an elderly mother or father,’ you’re going to get my phone line.”
And when she picked up that phone, the most important part of her job was “how to listen. That’s why we’re here. To get what they need and how they need it for the elders and the families.”
At 88, you would think Kurland was ready to retire, but, perhaps not surprisingly, she’s got plans. First, she’s going to get both knees replaced, she’ll continue working as an officer with her condominium association and she’s already promised to go back to work at JCS as a part-time volunteer. Meanwhile, her “family-family,” two children and five grandchildren, will keep her busy.
“And I have a professional family of workers who are family. My job has been to try to help people and families. We’d always say, ‘we don’t make widgets, we try to help people,’” she said about the job she loves. “That’s a very, very special job. And I have tried my very best to carry that responsibility and really respect the opportunity of doing it.”