More than 70 members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community welcomed the Jewish Fertility Foundation during a kickoff celebration on Feb. 23 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s Levinson Hall.
The organization launched in Pittsburgh on Sept. 1; the purpose of the February event was to let the community know “we’re here,” CEO and founder Elana Frank told the Chronicle.
“We have money to give out, we have resources and we have educational opportunities,” Frank said.
The nonprofit opened its doors in 2016 in Atlanta and has offices in six cities. In addition to Pittsburgh and its headquarters in Atlanta, locations include Birmingham, Alabama; Cincinnati; Washington, D.C.; and Tampa, Florida.
When Pittsburgher Erika Schmitt approached Frank about opening an office in Pittsburgh, Frank asked Schmitt if she wanted to start an exploratory committee here. It only took a few hours for Schmitt, who conceived a daughter by working with a fertility clinic and works professionally in the adoption and fertility world, to say yes.
After Schmitt formed a committee and did the initial research, Frank said, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh asked what it would cost to open a Pittsburgh office.
“I told them, and they gave me more than that, which is rare,” she said.
Pittsburgh, Frank said, “is just a beautiful community and really has been so welcoming.”
JFF-Pittsburgh Manager Meredith Levy spoke at the kick-off celebration along with Frank, Schmitt and Amanda Hirsh, executive director of the Hebrew Free Loan Association. JFF is partnered with the HFLA as part of the J Funds umbrella, which offers loans up to $10,000, on a nonsectarian basis, for fertility treatments or adoption costs.
“It’s very unique to Pittsburgh and amazing that we are so generous,” Levy said.
Before coming to JFF, Levy worked as a nurse anesthetist, a skill set she said is helpful as she leads the Pittsburgh office.
“Doctors don’t have to worry about my understanding of medical terminology,” she said.
Levy conceived twins through in vitro fertilization, so she is familiar with the process and stress that comes along with trying to conceive through IVF and IUI, or intrauterine insemination, another form of infertility treatment.
“I can definitely relate to all of it,” she said.
At its core, JFF is a grant-giving nonprofit. Levy said she has $30,000 to distribute this year, thanks to the Pittsburgh’s Federation.
Levy, who paid more than $20,000 for her IVF procedure, knows how important that money can be to people trying to start a family.
JFF, she said, grants up to $1,000 to those using IUI to try to conceive, and up to $7,500 for those attempting to conceive through IVF.
People who receive a grant also get a 20% discount if they work with Shady Grove Fertility in Wexford, a clinic that partners with JFF Pittsburgh.
Clients, Levy said, can apply for two grants.
“A lot of times people start with IUI—which is less obtrusive — and end up potentially moving to IVF if they need to,” she said.
So far, JFF, which is a Pittsburgh Federation beneficiary agency, has awarded two grants — although Levy calls it two-and-a-half, because a third grant was set to be distributed, but the person conceived and never took the money.
“It’s very positive for Pittsburgh,” Levy said. “We have a lot of money to give.”
Money isn’t the only way that JFF is helping to assist those facing conception challenges. The organization hosts a free monthly support group with a psychologist who specializes in issues that include infertility, depression and anxiety.
JFF also offers a buddy program where those with experience in fertility treatments help people starting the process. Levy said the program tries to match people with similar households — single moms by choice with single moms by choice, couples with couples, for instance.
“We even have men who have volunteered to be veteran fertility buddies to husbands who have gone through this journey,” she said.
JFF Pittsburgh has two upcoming events to learn more about the organization.
On Saturday, March 11, JFF Pittsburgh will join with its sister cities for a National Havdalah Support Program facilitated by Rabbinic Fellow Anna Burke.
Not wanting a bridge to keep those interested from learning more about JFF, the organization is partnering with Temple Emanuel of South Hills on March 23 for a “South Hills Community Gathering” at 28 Bridges in Bridgeville.
Levy also has talked with the City of Pittsburgh’s director of financial empowerment about future partnerships.
For more information, go to the Jewish Fertility Foundation’s Pittsburgh website. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.