JFS receives grant to make Kids Connection inclusive

April 5, 2019

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Jewish Family Service of Tidewater recently received a grant to work in collaboration with Simon Family JCC to develop a fully inclusive after-school program. The grant supports the initial development and implementation of inclusive programming for children with special needs within the Simon Family JCC’s Kids Connection program, a before and after-school enrichment program that provides a safe, fun, and educational experience for children Pre-K through sixth grade.

This grant makes it possible to provide opportunities for students of all abilities to participate in Kids Connection. Thanks to the grant, the additional support/enrichment is provided at no additional cost for families.

The inclusive programming is an expansion of the Yachad summer camp program which has been a part of the JCC for more than 22 years. Each summer, Yachad supports an average of 25 children who experience a variety of developmental, physical, and/or emotional needs. Within the Yachad program, specially trained staff, referred to as “shadows,” are at the camp to provide support and accommodations to campers, facilitate friendships, and encourage participation.

When JFS initially worked in collaboration with the JCC to develop the Yachad summer camp program, its success could not have been predicted. JFS’ Michelle Fenley, LCSW, who has been instrumental in the development of both programs, says, “The Yachad program has not only grown and continued to exist, it has provided a fun and nurturing camp experience to so many children in Tidewater.

“It has been a hope of mine for many years that our community could expand and broaden the fully-inclusive environment that the Yachad summer camp program creates,” says Fenley. “My heart is so happy that this grant program has provided another step forward for us in being able to welcome and embrace people of all abilities within our facilities and programs.”

Similar to Yachad, Kids Connection will now employ specialty staff to provide academic and social support for the children. Mary Beth Britten, the first hired Inclusion Specialist within Kids Connection, supports students with social, physical, and academic needs. Plans call for an additional Inclusion Specialist.

Sarah Cooper, program manager of Kids Connection, says, “We’re so grateful for this inclusion program through JFS. It’s comforting to know that children are getting the support they need to have a memorable after-care experience. Mary Beth blends right in with the other counselors and the children are drawn to her!”

For more information, contact Sarah Cooper at 757-321-2306.

This program was made possible by a private grant administered by the Network of Jewish Human Services Agencies, and with generous matching donor support by Marilyn Simon Weinberg and Amy Goldberg of the Marilyn & Marvin Simon Philanthropic Fund, the Bartel Family Philanthropic Fund, and the Tidewater Jewish Foundation Community Impact Grant Fund. Matching contributions for this grant are still needed. To learn how to help support youth with special needs enjoy an inclusive after-school and summer camp experience, contact Kelly Burroughs, JFS CEO, at 757-321-2244.

Amy Cobb

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