Jewish Residential Services Inc. was formed in 1989 to create opportunities for adults who had psychiatric disabilities, chronic illnesses, and physical or developmental disabilities to live within a Jewish community setting in Pittsburgh. A 1985 report from the United Jewish Federation had called for creating culturally based residential options for Jewish adults in the Pittsburgh area who were unable to live fully independently. Rep. Ivan Itkin secured $70,000 in state funding in 1990 toward the creation of such a home.
Under the leadership of Kathy Hurwitz and six local Jewish families—Friedman, Koskoff, Krause, Mottsman, Resnick, and Wechsler—Jewish Residential Services Inc. opened the Leonard Staisey House in early 1993 at an apartment building at 2021 Wendover St. in Squirrel Hill. The location was chosen for its proximity to Jewish communal amenities, although Jewish Residential Services was always non-sectarian and admitted residents of all backgrounds. The Leonard Staisey House offered kosher food and observed the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, making it the first housing program in Pennsylvania to serve the needs of religiously observant Jews with disabilities. After opening the Leonard Staisey House, Jewish Residential Services created additional housing options throughout Squirrel Hill through its Supported Housing Program.
Jewish Residential Services Inc. launched an expansion campaign in 1998, leading to Charles Morris Hall and the Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse. Charles Morris Hall provided housing, support, and counseling to people with cognitive and development disabilities and who were working toward greater independence. The apartment building at 5680 Munhall Rd. opened in 2001 and included 12 one-bedroom apartments and a commons area, as well as the services of an advisor. Charles Morris Hall became the model for a second apartment building, Jason Kramer Hall, which opened on Darlington Road in 2011. Both units were created by Jewish Residential Services in partnership with ACTION-Housing using U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding.
Using funds from the Ladies Hospital Aid Society, Jewish Residential Services in 1996 conducted a need assessment that looked at the possibility of creating a non-residential psychiatric rehabilitation program in Squirrel Hill. Jewish Residential Services worked with the Career Development Center of Jewish Family & Children’s Service and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic to develop a pilot program based on the “Clubhouse” model in early 1998. The Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse acquired the former Weisshouse showroom on Murray Avenue, near its intersection with Forward Avenue.
Under its Families in Transition program, Jewish Residential Services began operating Community Living Arrangements in Squirrel Hill. The Goldberg House opened at 1428 Shady Ave. in 2014 and the Solomon Family House opened on Mt. Royal Rd. in 2021.
Jewish Residential Services acquired the former Poli’s Restaurant at Murray and Forward avenues in 2017 for construction of the Seymour and Corinne Krause Commons in partnership with ACTION-Housing. The six-story building included 33 units of affordable housing with half dedicated for people with disabilities, the Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse, and Jewish Residential Services offices. Jewish Residential Services changed its name to The Branch in 2022.
Presidents include Kathy Hurwitz (1989-1993), Ruth Drescher (1993-1997), David Kalson (1997-2000), Libby Fishman (2000-2003), E.J. Strassburger (2003-2006), Ned Siegel (2006-2008), Jay Fingeret (2008-2010), Nancy S. Elman (2010-2013), Reid B. Roberts (2013-2016), Judy Greenwald Cohen (2016-2019), Gerri L. Sperling (2019-2021), and Lorrie Rabin (2021-present).