More than any clothes or jewelry, Deborah Hamburger says the best gift she ever received was a binder from her father. It contained all of the documents she would ever need in case of an emergency.

“My dad made this binder years ago when he was in his mid-60s,” says Hamburger, 52, a Pikesville resident and attorney. “It included copies of his and my mother’s wills, powers of attorney, insurance policies and bank account information. When I got the binder, I used to preach how useful it would be. But since my father passed away last year, I now know from personal experience what an incredible gift this was.”

After receiving the binder, Hamburger, volunteer coordinator at Jewish Community Services, wrote a blog post about it and was stunned by the positive feedback she received.

“I had many people say they wished their parents had done this for them, as well as many parents tell me they are getting to an age where they should create a binder for their children,” she says. “Through JCS, we decided to turn this idea into a workshop, and we have been helping people create binders like these ever since.”

Introduced about five years ago, “The Greatest Gift” workshops are offered throughout the year by JCS to synagogue brotherhoods and sisterhoods, residents of assisted living facilities and at the Park Heights and Owings Mills Jewish Community Centers.

Part of the “Life Happens” educational series co-sponsored by JCS, LifeBridge Health, the JCC and Sol Levinson & Bros., the hour-long workshops are free to the public and geared toward the “Sandwich Generation,” adults who are raising children while caring for aging parents. Attendees leave with binders full of information on how to organize and compile necessary documents and articles on topics including reverse mortgages, advanced directives and beneficiary documents.

Hamburger recognizes that the wealth of information can feel a bit daunting and morbid at times, but she says having all of the materials in one place is extremely beneficial.

“I have heard from people whose parents have passed away that they are grateful for this binder,” she says. “We feel like we have reached people with these workshops and made a difference.”

While the binders are geared toward dealing with the passing of a loved one, Hamburger stresses that they are not “death binders.”

“I always tell people you don’t just need these binders for when you pass away,” she says. “Someone may go into rehab and be home in two months, but in the meantime someone has to carry on. Life happens to everyone and things happen when you age.”

“The Greatest Gift” is one of the many programs offered by JCS to help older adults and caregivers cope with the aging process. The organization also provides individual counseling and therapy for older adults and free support groups for clients with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers, as well as to caregivers of people with dementia.

In addition, there is a grief support group, as well as case management services, financial assistance and a social club, for Holocaust survivors.

The fee-based Elder Care Management program administered by JCS provides services including comprehensive assessments of clients’ physical, cognitive, psycho-social and financial statuses. Clients are assigned case managers who help them to navigate the health care system, assist with residential placements or coordinate the services required for clients to live safely and comfortably in their own homes.

“Elder care services have always been in place but are becoming more prevalent because people are living longer,” says Shoshana Zuckerbrod, a community-based clinician and elder care consultant with JCS. “It can be a big strain for people to have to worry about aging parents or loved ones, careers and children. These programs are meant to be a support to help manage and care for their loved ones without it being so overwhelming.”

Says Karen James, a clinical social worker with JCS’s Adult Therapy Services: “Everyone who is going through the aging process or caring for a loved one going through the process thinks they are the only ones who have done it and that this is only happening to them. Programs help normalize what’s happening. Aging is part of life, and programs provide support and education on what to expect next.”

James stresses the importance of planning for the future.

“I work with a lot of older adults and tell them it’s important to tell family members how they want medical crises dealt with,” she says. “It will make family members lives easier if something happens, and they won’t have ongoing guilt that they didn’t know what was wanted. If older adults can do that for their children, it will save them some suffering and parents will teach their children how to age and be an example for the next generations.”

For information, call 410-466-9200 or visit

Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.