Michalah Hoffman Brings Her Social Work Expertise to Howard County

Michalah Hoffman brings more than 25 years of social work experience to the Jewish Federation of Howard County. (Photo provided)

When the Jewish Federation of Howard County put out the word that it needed a community social worker part time, the organization received inquiries from many qualified candidates, said Ralph Grunewald, the Federation’s interim executive director. But one really stood out: Michalah Hoffman.

“She has the absolute right personality, the passion and commitment, really a human touch that is very unique,” Grunewald said. “Whoever she works with, any patient, any client, any clergy, sees that this is an individual who cares deeply.”

Hoffman has more than 25 years of social work experience, including 15 years in child protective services and 10 years in hospice. She also founded the Jewish Relief Center, which provided food and school supplies to children in need in Maryland.

Until about a year ago, the Federation was in partnership with Jewish Community Services, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, but that partnership ended when the Federation board determined the expenditure of funds for services was not justified by the number of active JCS clients the programs served.

Although Grunewald called the partnership between the Federation and JCS “wonderful,” he agreed to facilitate the search for a way to identify individuals who need care, and how to best provide it to them. Now that task falls to Hoffman, who is excited by the challenge.

“My job is still evolving,” she said. “When there are needs in Howard County, when the Jewish residents say they need something like a support group or whatever comes up, I can design and work with that.”

Most recently, Hoffman created a support group for single parents raising young Jewish children. She’ll also be looking at serving the elderly, a large part of the Howard County Jewish community. Hoffman estimates that 95 percent of her clients, many of whom are Russian, are 50 and above.

“We have around 18 Russian Jews that live in the senior housing building,” she said. “They struggle with reading paperwork because their English is limited. Medical bills, electric bills, things like that.”

Hoffman doesn’t speak Russian, but that’s not as much of an obstacle as one might think. “You would be amazed at how far a hug and a smile go,” she said.

In addition to providing care in the community, Hoffman facilitates the Jewish Emergency Network, a volunteer organization founded by the Federation in 2008 that finds members of the Jewish community in need and sends grant requests up to $750 to donors who can pay companies, be it a hospital or rental agency, that the individual is having trouble paying.

“I carry a cell phone that is on 24/7. That is a Jewish Emergency Network phone. I take calls on the weekends and at nights,” she said. “I try to be really flexible. Every day is different.”

In her quarter century as a social worker, Hoffman said, the most challenging part of her work has been seeing people she is trying to help not change their behavior. But the heartbreak never stopped her from fulfilling her purpose.

“My heart,” she said, “is about giving dignity and honor to humanity.”


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