Our History

For over 125 years, Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) has stood witness to economic upheavals, shifting political landscapes, world conflicts, amazing technological innovations and triumphs of the human spirit. Although times change, JVS has remained a constant symbol of strength and hope in the community.

Jewish Vocational Service’s roots were established as an Employment Bureau of the United Hebrew Relief Association. Organizations of volunteers banded together to help find jobs for immigrants fleeing political and economic oppression from Eastern Europe.

The evolution of JVS resulted from a series of mergers and name changes. The Employment Bureau merged with the B’nai B’rith Labor Bureau and operated as the B’nai B’rith Free Employment Bureau.

Our name changed to the Jewish Free Employment Bureau. Industrial workshops were developed for temporary employment and training of the community’s unemployed.

The Jewish Free Employment Bureau merged with the Vocational Department of the Jewish Children’s Welfare Society and the Jewish Social Service Bureau to become the Jewish Vocational Service and Employment Center (JVS).

Jewish Vocational Service focused on job placement of refugees from Nazi Germany, along with the training and re-training of men and women for work in the war industry. JVS developed a watch-repair training program for immigrants and workers with disabilities.

Jewish Vocational Service provided vocational counseling and job placement to returning war veterans and post-war refugees.

The Vocational Adjustment Center was established with a grant from the Wieboldt Foundation to help people with mental, physical and emotional disabilities. Following a joint program with the Winfield Tuberculosis Service of Michael Reese Hospital, vocational services were provided to patients at Mt. Sinai and the Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital. Innovative workshop programs were established in homes for residents.

Jewish Vocational Service received a Presidential Citation for its highly productive work with persons with disabilities. The United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare provided a grant for the development of a scale for employability for persons with disabilities. JVS was the first agency to develop the psychosocial approach in the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities. Vocational rehabilitation was established as a model of professional intervention, and the Vocational Adjustment Center attained a renowned reputation for developing new techniques in the counseling and placement of unemployed and people with disabilities.

Jewish Vocational Service strengthened its counseling program with emphasis on youth, adults vulnerable to technological and business changes, and seniors.

The Sampson-Katz Center was built to offer a comprehensive network of services including counseling, placement and rehabilitation services to the north side of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

Jewish Vocational Service developed specialized vocational counseling and job-seeking skills services for heads of families experienced in professional, managerial and technical fields. In addition, the Federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare granted the development of “Project with Industry,” a joint venture of JVS, the Illinois Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and cooperating employers in the private sector of the Chicago metropolitan area, to provide industrial job training and opportunities for persons with disabilities.

The Jerome J. Nathan Work Evaluation Service initiated a nationally recognized evaluation and work adjustment center for persons with disabilities at the Vocational Adjustment Center. During the mid-1970s, JVS also worked closely with the Illinois Department of Human Services to provide employment assistance to Hmong Tribesmen who had been displaced from their homes in Vietnam. JVS also worked closely with Jewish “Refuseniks” who left Russia for the United States. This was a period of great upheaval during which JVS worked with the Jewish Federation, Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services to provide for the many displaced people who came to Chicago.

Jewish Vocational Service developed specific skills-training programs for the underemployed and unemployed.

This decade brought the development of cooperative relationships between social service and industry. The Midwest Association of Business, Rehabilitation and Industry (MABRI) evolved from the Project with Industry (PWI) in which local industrialists assumed policy and fiscal responsibilities for the job placement of persons with disabilities. The automotive after-market trade organization in Chicago pledged a three-year program called Project TEAM (Training and Employment of the Automotive Mechanic). Janitorial and home health aide training programs were developed. As the Berlin Wall came down, JVS participated in a very large refugee services program that, at one point, received more than a thousand people per month.

The Jewish Employment Network was established as a partnership with the Jewish Federation and 14 north-side congregations ranging from the reform to the Orthodox. That program expanded to serving more than 60 congregations and has continued to serve thousands of unemployed middle-management and executive clients to this day. JVS continued to serve refugees from the former Soviet Union and created many training programs that served not only Russian Jews, but also refugees from many other countries.

Through the generous endowment of the late Louis Duman, Jewish Vocational Service opened its Duman Microenterprise Center and Loan Fund to help entrepreneurs start up, expand or strengthen a small business. Renamed the Illinois Small Business Development Center at The Duman Entrepreneurship Center, its programs offer a wide range of services including credit building, financial literacy and access to other capital. Small business ventures that were supported by the Duman Entrepreneurship Center continue to thrive and develop new jobs. In 2010 more than 300 new jobs were created by these small business ventures.

JVS continues to create new programs to train individuals with disabilities or those who lack the work skills necessary to succeed in today’s difficult job market. JVS also continues to be one of the very few social service agencies that can provide professional, personalized and individualized career services to a highly diverse client population. When you call JVS, you will connect with a person, not a computerized menu.  You will receive service that can help you make a difference in your career efforts and goals. This has been our promise since 1884.

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