Interview and photos by Jan Osborn.
Helen Hunt, an award-winning actress, accomplished writer, director and producer, will headline Jewish Family Service’s (JFS) 10th Anniversary Annual Woman to Woman Luncheon, on Wednesday, May 25, at noon, at the Renaissance Dallas Addison Hotel, 15201 Dallas Parkway. The luncheon, a biennial celebration of the power, influence, and impact of women, will feature Hunt in a fireside chat with WFAA’s Cynthia Izaguirre. Drawing from her own experiences, Hunt will share inspirational and empowering stories from throughout her life and career. Founding Legacy Co-Chairs Ethel Zale and Linda Garner join 31 honorary chairs, representing all past luncheon events, in promoting this important fundraiser, which enables JFS to provide comprehensive mental health and social services to anyone in need regardless of age, race, religion, or ability to pay. Last year JFS served 39,000 individuals.
We recently had the opportunity to visit with Linda Garner and Ethel Zale about their dedication to raising funds for JFS.
You have been very instrumental in raising funds for JFS. What was the catalyst for organizing and chairing the first luncheon? What was the year and who was the first speaker?
Ethel: It began as a garden party with 100 ladies at the home of Elaine and Trevor Pearlman. Pearlman, Janet Beck, Dena Frankfurt, Roslyn Goldstein, Lisa Zale and Ethel Zale welcomed Susan Dell as the premier event’s special guest.
I didn’t know much about JFS when I first got involved but Dr. Harlan Pollock, of blessed memory, was the president of JFS at the time and asked me to help out. What he cared about was important, and I soon learned that it was important to me, too, and I had to help.
I first got involved when JFS moved into its present building. I was able to help with the design and was amazed to learn about all the services housed under one roof. I knew then that this was the agency to which I would give my time, effort, and heart. That’s exactly why I wanted to start the Woman to Woman Luncheon. I wanted to raise awareness about the vital services offered to our community so that JFS could help more people.
Linda: My love for JFS started 35 years ago after a divorce. I felt that my son and I needed counseling, but I didn’t know where to turn for help. One day I received a postcard from JFS, an agency I had never heard of that offered exactly what I needed. After so much support from this agency, I made a promise to myself that as soon as I was able to give back, I would. I was honored to be asked by Ethel to co-chair the second Woman to Woman Luncheon in 2006 and have been a co-chair every year since.
It is exciting you are celebrating the 10th Anniversary of this biennial event. What has this experience of serving together meant to you both?
Linda: We have been working alongside each other, hand in hand, for nearly two decades. I can’t think of many things that are as precious as ‘forever friends’ who feel more like family… and because we have been attached at the hip and both deeply love being involved in community service, we have planned huge fundraisers for organizations like JFS, Golden Acres, The Legacy and more that have had lasting impacts on the Dallas community.
There is so much joy in our hearts that comes from knowing that thousands of individuals and families in need have been helped greatly because of this event.
The upcoming JFS Luncheon is one of your biggest fundraisers and awareness events of the year. What are some of your goals for the event, especially with a message from helen hunt?
Ethel: We are planning to make this memorable day one of celebration, joy, and love. After having to go virtual for the 2020 Luncheon, this year’s event holds a special significance. We are back and more grateful than ever to be gathering for the good of our community.
We do have a last-minute programming change to the luncheon due to our Keynote Speaker Kristin Chenoweth falling ill, though. Of course, we are sending good thoughts her way and hope for a speedy recovery.
But we pivoted and are so delighted to have Helen Hunt step in as our speaker. She is an incredibly talented actress, writer, director and producer known for an extensive and diverse body of work including roles in film, theater, and television! Her credits are so extensive, but she is widely known for her role as Jamie Buchman in the hit show Mad About You, opposite of Paul Reiser – a role which she revived for another season in 2019. In this role, she garnered four Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards (three as lead actress and one as producer for best comedy) and a Screen Actors Guild Award. She was also named Best Actress for her role in the film As Good as it Gets, for which she won a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and an Oscar. And there is so much more!
Most recently, Hunt can be seen as Rainey in Blindspotting, a show based on the film with the same title. On the big screen, she can last be seen in How it Ends, The Night Clerk, and the thriller I See You. Recently she also played Nancy Campbell in BBC’s World War II drama World on Fire. She has also starred in the inspirational drama The Miracle Season and the Fox drama Shots Fired. Her 2012 performance in The Sessions earned her multiple awards. Additional film credits include Netflix’s comedy Candy Jar, Ride (which she co-wrote, produced, and directed), Decoding Annie Parker, Soul Surfer, Every Day, Bobby, Then She Found Me (which she also co-wrote, produced, and directed), What Women Want, Castaway, A Good Woman, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Dr. T. and The Women, Pay It Forward, and Twister.
As a director, Hunt helmed an episode of the new Netflix show The Politician and the FX anthology series Feud: Bette and Joan. Additional credits include CBS’s Life in Pieces, NBC’s This is Us, Splitting Up Together, For the People, ABC’s Revenge, Showtime’s House of Lies, Californication, Mad About You, and the Paul Reiser Show. Hunt is also an equally accomplished theater actress with numerous credits across the United States, including “Twelfth Night” and “Life X Three” on Broadway.
How much money has been raised since you began that first luncheon?
Ethel: Since we began that first luncheon, $4,661,994 has been raised in support of Jewish Family Service’s continuum of 150+ programs and services since 2004. In the last 18 years, this event has helped to triple the number of clients the agency supports.
Tell us about the services that you provide at Jewish Family Service.
Linda: Since 1950, JFS has been ‘an open door to all in need’ regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or the ability to pay. We currently offer more than 30 programs and services, including food security, housing stability, mental health counseling, aging care, employment support, and disability services. JFS takes a holistic approach, assessing the various needs of the individual or family and provides the appropriate services all from one organization. We continuously evaluate the evolving challenges of our community and adapt or develop programs that respond to the resulting needs.
This incredible organization and all the people who have helped sustain it all these years – way before this event came into the picture – have helped shape the quality care that it is recognized for today. It’s truly awe-inspiring that JFS directly supported more than 39,000 individuals in just the last year alone.
What stories have most impacted you during your time working with JFS and the families?
Linda: The most impactful story I heard was how a family living in an affluent neighborhood was helped along with their two children. Her husband came down with cancer and had let his insurance lapse, so he had no coverage. They had to move out of their beautiful home into a small apartment to try and pay medical bills, and after six months his wife had unfortunately also come down with a different form of cancer. The two of them not only needed help for basic needs and counseling, but also counseling for their children. They stayed with JFS for quite some time, and the wife was counseled much longer as she had developed suicidal tendencies after her husband passed. JFS was able to help the entire family, and the therapist told us that she had written the most beautiful letter and had started volunteering when she eventually was in remission. It came full circle.
How can Dallas residents support both the overall mission of JFS and also get directly involved with the causes it supports? What does it look like for someone to be fully engaged in the work of community growth?
Ethel: The JFS mission really has this impactful way of touching your heart and inspiring generous donors and volunteers to help with some of the most personal issues an individual or family can experience in their lifetimes.
We have heard many times from board members and volunteers who say how motivated they were to help when they heard about the amazing personal touch volunteers can have in our food pantry with clients who need food, delivering meals to those who are homebound, helping teach technical skills and job search support to those out of work, and so much more. Everyone wants to make a difference. It’s in our DNA!
People interested in volunteering can join JFS’ 1,700 strong volunteers and learn more about all the ways they can help on the agency website at www.jfsdallas.org/volunteer
The other way, honestly, that Dallas residents can make a huge impact, is by simply talking about the important work that JFS is doing to serve all in need. From grabbing lunch with friends to attending an affinity group to making introductions to new corporate funders… nonprofits all around town rely on people spreading the word for those who need help and to those who have the resources TO help.
Are tickets for the luncheon still available? If so, how can someone get a ticket? Is there also a virtual option?
Yes, $250 tickets can be purchased at the door at the are available online at the event. Guests who wish to attend virtually may via live stream the event for the same price. Proof of vaccination will be required on site.
What are some other details of things that will be happening at the luncheon that you would like to share?
Well, we have so many exciting ways to participate in the event and give back to the Greater Dallas community! This is the first year in the event’s history that we’re raffling off a brand new 2022 Lexus RX 350 SUV. The best part is that proceeds from the raffle tickets will help fund free transportation for older adults and individuals with disabilities who can utilize our handicap-accessible van and full-time driver.
We also have a luxury raffle which includes a 3-carat white gold diamond bangle, spa retreat, group wine tasting, or gift card as well as our wine pull, which is a fun way to ensure everyone walks away with a tasty bottle of wine… or two.
Is there anything else you want to add either about the upcoming event or JFS?
Linda: The need for JFS’ help has grown well beyond what we ever could have imagined, and the support of our community has grown along with it. Each year, when we look out into the audience and see our generous supporters, we, too, are filled with an ever-growing passion. The more who know, the more we can help.
Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas is a nonsectarian mental health and social services nonprofit that has served anyone regardless of age, race, religion, or ability to pay for more than 70 years. Their mission is to provide effective, accessible, and comprehensive mental health and social services that promote lifelong self-sufficiency and well-being for the Greater Dallas community. JFS Dallas offers programs to the community such as individual age-appropriate counseling, family violence intervention, support for older adults, transportation services for disabled or homebound, a client-choice food pantry, and emergency financial assistance. The agency’s comprehensive services impacted over 39,000 lives last year. To learn more about Jewish Family Service, go to jfsdallas.org.