2018-07-18 / Columns

Jewish Abilities Alliance has grown to help thousands connect to services

Jewish Federation CEO

The Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) came to be because the community, lay leaders, and Federation leadership recognized a significant need within the Jewish community for help in accessing resources and services for individuals with special needs. Caregivers spend an average of 13 hours a month looking for services— time that could be better spent with their families. Over 6,500 people in our South Jersey Jewish community have a developmental or physical disability—and when you add in their families and caregivers, you have a significant number of people who benefit from a program like the JAA.

With a vision of promoting an inclusive, spirited environment, our JAA program assists families in finding the services they need for their loved ones with different abilities, strengthening their connection, and enabling them to more fully participate in their communities. One example is a father who wanted to aid in his daughter’s Jewish journey even though she cannot communicate verbally. Our Special Needs Navigator helped him find images of Jewish faith and culture to use with his daughter’s picture-based communication system by connecting him with an Orthodox special needs school in England. This father reached out again more recently, asking for help in using his daughter’s speech system on her iPad to say her prayers. Our Special Needs Navigator connected the father to a local resource who is going to help him pre-record the prayers and save them on his daughter’s iPad for whenever she needs them—and is looking into getting the young woman a speech app that speaks Hebrew, so she can use Hebrew in her daily life.

The JAA is a resource in many other ways, too, and is growing by leaps and bounds as we enter our second year. We have a dedicated website where you can find over 400 special needs resources, a community calendar of special needs-related events, and a wide variety of informational content. This site has become a vital resource for many in our community, with over 11,900 pageviews last month alone.

New this year is the JAA Your Way Library born out of our popular video series that airs on Facebook Live with a live Q&A. You can now view past episodes on our JAA website and download a podcast version to get your special needs resource questions answered on the go! Moms of children with special needs will soon have a new social/support group available to them. With funding from the Jewish Women’s Foundation and the Jewish Community Foundation, Inc., our JAA is launching a monthly group therapy session and two community outings where moms of children with special needs can get to know each other and develop friendships and additional support systems.

We are so proud to see how this program has grown from a small grassroots effort to something more and more tangible each and every day. This is just one more way the Jewish Federation is making an impact in our community and changing people’s lives for the better. 


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