Innovating Care for The Most Vulnerable

September 19, 2023

An elderly widow in Bălți, Moldova, learns to use her JOINTECH smartphone.


Across the former Soviet Union, JOINTECH helps connect isolated seniors to community resources and trains homecare workers to optimize care.

Five years ago, Rusudan Voronina barely escaped with her life when a natural gas explosion damaged her Batumi, Georgia home and left her with severe burns to her face and hands.

Though she’s now recovered, the ripples of her accident — along with her high blood pressure, diabetes, and hearing and vision problems — mean that the 87-yearold is unable to leave her home.

Enter JOINTECH — the JDC initiative in the former Soviet Union (FSU) leveraging technology to innovate care for elderly Jews like Voronina: Her JDC-issued “Let’s Get Connected” smartphone, specially designed to be easy for seniors to use, is “a breath of fresh air and a window into my old life.”

“The phone is a ray of sunshine that gives me hope and support,” she said. “I’ve met new people, and I love the clubs and programs. I can’t imagine how I used to live before this.”

In remote areas across the FSU — like some parts of Georgia, Moldova, and Kazakhstan — the connectivity JOINTECH provides opens up a world of possibilities for JDC clients physically unable to attend inperson programs or living in places where such services don’t exist.

In addition to the smartphone distribution, JOINTECH has also begun to remotely train and monitor homecare workers, a process that empowers staff and ensures better, more streamlined care for the neediest older adults. JDC has also launched a series of virtual support groups for clients, along with special programs addressing emerging health challenges like memory loss and loneliness.

“Three years ago, we started with an idea, and now it’s become a continuum of services spread across nine countries, making an impact in the lives of thousands of vulnerable Jews and thousands of homecare workers,” said Pini Miretski, who heads up JOINTECH. “We’re talking about an organization that’s been around for over 100 years, and here, we were able to create a tool that allows us to introduce innovation rapidly and successfully. I think that’s a major achievement.”

One example is the concept of “marathons” — long days of virtual programming coordinated by multiple JDC-supported Hesed social welfare centers and functioning almost like a relay race, with one city passing the baton to the next for another session of compelling content.


Designed to be employed during holidays like Passover or Rosh Hashanah, the model became useful in a new way during the Ukraine crisis, as various Heseds came together for a “winter survival” marathon offering strategies for coping with power outages, tips on how to stay safe and warm during the winter, ideas for how to stretch household staples like canned beans, and more.

“It’s not a static program,” Miretski said. “We’ve created the infrastructure and then we can ‘turn it on,’ so to speak, when we have an emerging need. We don’t have to develop a whole new way of getting the information out to people. We have the mechanism already.”

Shay Kognitsky, who manages JDC’s innovation projects in the FSU, said one of the most promising aspects of the program is its “limitless” potential — both to optimize care and to offer new tools to clients once they’ve grown accustomed to the new technology.

“These people weren’t able to be fully part of the community, and it’s exciting that they can now receive our services despite geographic challenges,” he said. “And once this barrier is broken and they start to use smartphones, we can give them additional digital services — even though they’re 100 years old sometimes, they’re learning, and they want more and more opportunities for education and connection.”

Miretski said the program’s focus on sustainability is key.

“Technology is a tool to achieve something bigger — it’s not a goal in and of itself,” he said. “At the end of the day, JOINTECH is about how we leverage technology to provide solutions in order to widen our reach and impact, provide effective solutions, and empower local communities — and all that without losing the human touch.”

Living alone on a monthly pension of just $100 in Chișinău, Moldova, Tatyana Velblyum said her smartphone is her “only joy.”

“If not for this phone, it would be like I was on a desert island here. I don’t have a computer, nothing — just one old TV, and nothing more,” she said. “It’s like I’m in paradise with this smartphone. You don’t feel so alone with it.”

For Elena Leibman, who coordinates JDC’s welfare programs in the FSU, that’s what JOINTECH is all about.

“It’s important, and it brings so much hope,” she said. “It’s bringing life back to our clients.”

Sign Up for JDC Voices Stories

Back To Our Stories