Jewish Family Service’s disability programs take place all year

January 30, 2020

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Programs focusing on including and enriching the lives of those with various forms of disabilities or special needs are a big part of Jewish Family Service’s work.

For more than 25 years, for example, Jewish Family Service has collaborated with the Jewish Community Center to provide inclusion programming for children with special needs. Through a grant from the Network of Jewish Human Services Agency’s (NJHSA) Legacy Heritage Fund, and matching donor funds, Yachad, an inclusive summer day camp program available to all children in Tidewater, has expanded.

“JFS’s goal with these additional funds was to expand this summer camp program to include additional children,” says Michelle Fenley, JFS clinician and inclusion specialist. “In partnership with the JCC, JFS has been developing and creating environmental conditions and staff training that supports children with differing needs,” she says. Inclusion support staff promote accessibility of all activities and program resources, while also providing emotional and behavioral support and increased self-regulation skills.

For Jewish adults with disabilities, JFS also provides services through the Chaverim and Simcha groups which meet twice each month and provide socialization, skill building, and recreational activities. These Jewish adults have physical, intellectual, or mental health disabilities. “In the past, these members of our community have been excluded,” says Michelle Walter, a JFS clinician. “We endeavor to offer them opportunities for engagement and exposure to a full range of Jewish life.”

These groups are often the only connection people with special needs have to their Jewish community, though the agency plans to build more partnerships for inclusion.

“A couple of years ago, we were invited to Temple Emanuel for Simcha Torah,” says Maryann Kettyle, JFS Special Needs Case Manager. “This was the first time one of our clients was ever allowed to even touch the Torah. She is 65 years old.”

“I was recently asked,” says Kelly Burroughs, JFS CEO, “what my favorite program is at JFS. I couldn’t really answer. It isn’t about the programs, it is about the people.”

Burroughs relates a story of the Simcha and Chaverim group who completed their mitzvah project during Hanukkah for children and families who receive assistance during the holiday. “The group was creating goodie bags for the children,” she says. “Each of them was so intent on making sure that the children would have a special gift. This is their mitzvah project—a chance for them to not only be the ‘recipients of services,’ but to be ‘givers’ as well. It was very special, and has a ripple effect.”


For more information on these programs at Jewish Family Service, contact Maryann Kettyle, JFS Special Needs Case Manager, at 757-459-4640.

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