Horwitz Zusman Families Make Children's Mental Health Their Passion Project

September 03, 2021

Horwitz Zusman Families Make Children's Mental Health Their Passion Project

By: Chantal Spector, Senior Manager of Communications & Elizabeth Kiefer, Marketing Content Coordinator

“If we can make a change in the life of a family, we have a chance to make a difference in the community. If we can help address mental health at younger ages, we can save a lifetime of suffering.” - Ula Zusman, NCC, JF&CS Child and Adolescent Clinician.

For the Horwitz and Zusman families, giving is always a family decision. Each member has areas of interest, and they each have a ‘passion project.’ But they all support each other in furthering the cause to make a difference in peoples' lives any way they can.

David and Merle Horwitz grew up in Cape Town, South Africa and were very involved in the community there. As a family, they were constantly involved in anti-apartheid demonstrations, helping people who are less fortunate, and helping at the children's hospital. They were true pillars of the community, with David as the head of the Jewish Federation in Cape Town and Merle as the president of her chapter of B’nai B’rith. However, as violence increased in their hometown, they and their son, Sasha, made the painful decision to leave and move to United States. Daughter, Ula, moved to Australia and subsequently married Michael Zusman before they moved to the USA and started a family.

The entire family settled in Savannah, GA and lived there for 10 years, building their furniture business, and, again, impacting the community. In 2007, they moved to Atlanta with the hope of a more robust and richer Jewish life for everyone. David became involved with the executive board of the Jewish Federation and was then introduced to Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS). He was so impressed with the management, the mission, and the and story the agency tells, that he became a JF&CS board member in 2015.

A few years later, Ula was completing her master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and considering her options for work when her Teacher’s Assistant, Dr. Mary Chase Mize, then a doctoral intern at JF&CS, told her about how wonderful the clinical department was at the agency. In November 2019, Ula joined the JF&CS Staff as a Child, Adolescent and Family Therapist. In only a few short months, she participated as a panelist for one of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival’s heartbreaking documentaries about childhood sexual abuse, Rewind, and was carrying a full caseload of new child clients. Then the pandemic hit and the need for therapy skyrocketed.

Ula started co-facilitating groups for parents, seeing more clients and more children. Clinicians had 50–70-hour work weeks because the need for counseling was so desperate. They were scrambling to find ways of addressing the need while also keeping everybody safe and doing it online.

“There was a tremendous need that has not slacked off. We are not done with the pandemic, and we are not done with the psychological impact of the pandemic – it is ongoing. The chronic stress has led to extensive waiting lists on the Child Team,” said Ula.

The leadership team had been working the last few years to expand services for children and teens at the agency since Terri Bonoff became CEO but needed a large investment to move forward with the program expansion. Private donors had sponsored a research project through Georgia State University to assess the needs prior to the pandemic. Georgia ranks 50th out of the 50 States for access to mental health, and that was before the pandemic caused the needs to grow.

The leadership team created a five-year plan to launch the center and shared the exciting plans for a holistic approach for children age 2+ and their families, with the staff.

Ula brought the findings of the research study and the plans for the child and family center to her parents, husband and children (Ziv, 16, Noa, 14 and Lev, 13) and explained that she felt this was something her family could invest in that would make a significant difference. Michael stated, “I was tremendously impacted by the statistics and felt strongly that this center was something important to commit to.”

“Therapists only see kids for 45 minutes to one hour each week, so changes need to occur in the family environment for them to be durable and lasting. By focusing on the family as a unit with this new center, we have a much better chance of making a difference,” Ula said.

As a family who are committed to give together and making a difference together, they have a deep understanding of the importance of the ‘family unit.’ Together, they made the inspiring decision to invest a sizeable donation that helped get the center off the ground.

For David, “Being on the board gives a lot of insight into the governance of any organization. JF&CS … is very well-run and solid, based in governance. It’s one of the corner stones of ensuring that you are good stewards of other peoples’ money – to be able to ensure that the money is well-spent, and you get the biggest bang for your buck,” he said.

The family has primarily focused their efforts and funds on fighting anti-Semitism around the world and investing in innovative social and entrepreneurial projects that serve diverse underserved populations. This past year, the American Jewish Committee honored Merle and David with the Distinguished Advocate Award for their global work.

“David is always on to us that we need to give locally as well and make an impact globally. This is a way for us to give as a family locally and make a difference,” said Merle. “Although it has the name ‘Jewish Family & Career Services,’ I believe that JF&CS is the most incredible example of what Jewish people offer to the wider community.”

On August 18, 2021, JF&CS announced the launch of the new Horwitz Zusman Child & Family Center – dedicated to serving children, adolescents, and families in Georgia. The new Center will focus on enhancing mental health through strengthening and building resilience in families and youth across the developmental continuum.

“JF&CS is spearheading a tremendous center to build community resilience, but it takes a village to support it and to implement it,” added Ula. “The more people, the more adjunct programs, the more capacity we can build, the greater our reach can be. So, we would encourage people to join and to participate and to augment the services that we are putting in place.”

To learn more about how to support the new Horwitz Zusman Child & Family Center, please contact Jessica Katz Yonatan at jyonatan@jfcsatl.org or 770.677.9364.

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