As you are aware, Jennifer Jaff passed away in September of 2012. As the founder of Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness, Inc., she left behind not just an agency that she created and nurtured, but a set of ideals and practices that have become the very foundation on which the agency rests. What I have learned about Jennifer is that her life was truly dedicated to helping others in a way that generated not only a fierce loyalty but an incredible network of individuals who helped support the very work she spent her all too short life devoted to doing. The types of accolades I hear about her where things like:
“She was a super hero for my son, he truly felt like giving up in school until she came into his life.”
“Jennifer was always available and even if there was nothing she could do legally she listened and that truly made a difference.”
“If it wasn't for Jennifer helping me with my insurance appeal I would not have the dignity and quality of life I have now, I can never forget her.”
“What can you say about a total stranger who takes the time to listen, help and truly really care about someone they never met? Is saint too strong? Is hero inappropriate? I don’t know but she was both to me!”
These and so many more wonderful things were said about Jennifer by everyone I meet who knew her or who were in some way touched by her zeal for advocating. What an incredible legacy to leave behind, what a life truly well lived and how powerful a statement that you were someone's hero!
It is unfortunate that I never had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Jaff. However, I am sure if I had, I would be another of the multitude of individuals who were loyal and dedicated to her vision and mission at Advocacy for Patients. Instead, I have been tasked with the Herculean mission of continuing her legacy, and, in very real terms, of helping those who are truly vulnerable in our society – the chronically ill who often suffer in silence and expect little in terms of understanding from others.
By now you must be asking yourself: Who is this person? So let me tell you a little about myself. I, like Jennifer, have spent most of my adult life advocating for those less fortunate or those who simply have a harder time for one reason or another. I have come to Advocacy with 27 years of experience in social services and management, dedicating many years to working with disadvantaged people as a professional in social services and health care, as well as the law. In the late 1980’s, I left a successful career working at a mutual fund company on Wall Street to begin my career in social services, working for several New York City agencies dealing with concerns such as homelessness and literacy. I had decided that this was truly my life's work – helping those in need. As a result, I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Education and Rehabilitation Counseling and entered the health care field, focusing on the mentally and physically disabled. As Administrator on Duty at Jacobi Medical Center, as well as Director of Rehabilitation at North Central Bronx Hospital Center, I gained extensive experience in hospital management and patient advocacy. A growing desire to advocate for disadvantaged people led me to attend law school, and I obtained my J.D. degree from the City University of New York School of Law, whose motto spoke to me completely: Law in the Service of Human Needs.
Upon graduating from law school, I served as a Prosecutor for the Bronx District Attorney's Office for over three years. While there, I worked in the Domestic Violence and Sex Crimes Unit, prosecuting cases and advocating for the rights of victims. I continued my work with poor and indigent individuals as a legal services professional with Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (LSHV), where I handled a diverse caseload of domestic violence, custody, housing and disability matters. While at LSHV, I became the Deputy Director and program-wide Domestic Violence Coordinator. In addition to my legal representation of clients, I was responsible for developing a training and evaluation program for staff attorneys and other stakeholders within the domestic violence prevention and legal field. In 2007, I went to work at the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, an Executive level agency on policy, among other functions. At OPDV, I was the Director of Public Policy and Administration. While there, I was responsible for the development and implementation of statewide training of law enforcement, the judiciary, advocacy agencies and other stakeholders. With my team, I successfully wrote a million dollar grant to develop a one of a kind, online, web-based training for police officers in domestic violence case handling. In addition, I wrote policy for the State of New York in the areas of officer-involved domestic violence, probation, parole and victim advocacy agencies. In my role as the Director of Administration, I was responsible for successfully steering the agency through the recent fiscal crisis.
What does this all say, other than I obviously wanted to help others? It means I hold in my heart the same passion and dedication that Jennifer Jaff had for helping others and championing those in need. It says that, in hiring me, the Board of Directors at Advocacy thought that I could and would keep the agency and Jennifer’s legacy alive and fully operational. I am so honored to walk in the footsteps of someone so well respected and so highly thought of. I will do everything within my means to keep her memory, legacy, and mission alive and well, and I invite you all to please help us do the same in any way you know how: refer clients, spread the word that we are here to help, and, where possible, please donate, as we count on your support to make this all happen.
Eileen F. Swan, Executive Director