2017-06-21 / Columns

Potential and promise for JFCS Special Needs program participants

Executive Director, Jewish Family & Children’s Service

Just last week, several of our JFCS Special Needs program participants had the wonderful honor of graduating from the Project SEARCH program. The graduation, which took place on June 12 at Kennedy Hospital in Cherry Hill, highlighted the dedication and accomplishments of interns who participate in this very unique special needs school-to-work transition program. Through classroom instruction and hands-on training through worksite rotations, Project SEARCH student interns become equipped with the skills needed to venture off to gainful employment in the local workforce.

Pride, beaming from the faces of the graduates, told the story of surmounting challenges, making the most of opportunities, and expanding horizons. The student graduates, having built their strong foundations with blocks of perseverance and a passion to succeed, had finally come to realize the day that they had been waiting for. The sum of their efforts was honored at an inspiring and moving commencement ceremony. This is exactly the kind of inspiration that we are privileged to see at JFCS every day, though the various special needs programs we offer.

You can see that same pride on the faces of TOPS (To Our Positive Success) Day Program participants when they create art, dance to a new song, or make a new friend. It’s also evident inside the kitchen of the Soups and Sweets Special Needs Culinary Training Program, when a student delicately folds his or her own homemade Hamantaschen dough, or mixes the ingredients just right for the perfect challah. You can feel the excitement, exuberance and team building when you watch our SAIL (Supports to Achieve Independent Living) score a run for the first time in Special Olympics softball, or shoot one in the net on the hockey rink. You can hear it in the voices of employers as they talk, sometimes with tears of joy in their eyes, about someone they’ve hired through our Special Needs Supported Employment Program. This is particularly true when they share how they are more than just employees; rather, they are more like family. This feeling emanates from all parts of the Special Needs Department due to a staff that is highly committed and devoted to seeing the full potential within every person.

Next month, on July 26, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be recognized. In 1990, the ADA civil rights law was enacted, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. In addition, the ADA also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations. When signing the ADA into law, President George H.W. Bush said, “With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.” We couldn’t agree more with those words at JFCS.

Our hearts and arms welcome hundreds of individuals each month for social, recreational and vocational special needs programs. For anyone with a disability, promise and hope should never be out of reach. The doors at JFCS have always been open—and will stay that way forever, to assist, enrich, empower, and engage. So any person with special needs can realize the full potential they can achieve, tap into their talents, gain confidence, and blossom as every person has the right to do. We are beyond proud, honored, and humbled to know so many young men and women have achieved so much, no matter the hurdle. We hope you will join us in any way you can, to continue to keep the momentum of positive change and opportunity on the rise for those with disabilities.

For more information on the JFCS Special Needs Program, please call (856) 424-1333 or visit our website at www.jfcssnj.org


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