In Hungary, a Lifeline to a Struggling Single Mother

February 11, 2016


Aniko was at the end of her rope.

A single mother parenting two daughters with medical challenges, she was forced to share a crumbling apartment with her husband, even as they were divorcing. Mounting debts had left her, Judith, 13, and Rebeka, 11, under constant threat of eviction.

That’s when Aniko, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, contacted the Jaffe Jewish Family Service (JFS) in Budapest, one of JDC’s central welfare agencies in the Hungarian capital.

“I was surprised the Jewish community had a program like this – but it was a very good surprise,” said Aniko, 49, who is on disability for colitis and diabetes and gets occasional work cleaning houses. “The help we got changed our lives.”

Since July 2014, the family has benefited from a wide range of JFS services: financial support to help pay utility bills and back rent; new glasses for Judith, who has undergone several eye operations; a Big Brothers, Big Sisters-style mentor for Judith, tutoring her in math, English, and literature; school supplies; and a scholarship to JDC’s MASZola Jewish summer camp for at-risk children in Budapest’s Jewish community.

Now that she feels more secure financially, Aniko said she’s a better and more stable mother to her girls. Even her relationship with her husband is less tense.

And her daughters feel the change, too.

“I have a better relationship with the other kids at school,” said Rebeka, who is on the autism spectrum.

Her sister echoed her sentiments.

“There was always trouble paying the bills,” Judith said, “but now things are much calmer at home.”

The JFS in Budapest, which opened in 2006, supports about 1,000 at-risk children and more than 600 families, utilizing a team of five caseworkers.

The families are divided into three main groups, said László R¥fös-Horvát, the agency’s director: those facing an immediate crisis, those out of the woods but still actively receiving support, and those who’ve reached financial sustainability but are participating in community events and holiday programs.

The family’s caseworker, Monica Horvath, a six-year veteran of the agency, said Aniko’s commitment to her children cannot be overstated.

“In this process, she put 100 percent of her will and energy toward moving forward,” she said. “Thankfully, at this moment, they have no debt and can avoid eviction. And over the past year and a half, the kids have become more involved and more invested in Jewish life.”

Aniko said the MASZola camp is critical, helping her girls make friends and get out of a tense home environment; giving them a healthy lunch and access to museums, zoos, and other institutions whose cost of admission she could never afford; and – she says almost conspiratorially – giving her a bit of needed time off.

What’s most amazing, Aniko said, is that she now feels like she has a partner invested in her family’s success: JDC and the Jaffe Jewish Family Service.

“Ever today, after all this time, I’ve only had to call [our caseworker Monica] once. She calls me, knowing we might need something,” she said. “She starts the process without us having to. That’s rare, and I’ve never experienced it before.”

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