Inclusive Community

010314_Livingston,-JanetWhen a family member has a disability, meeting his or her needs and the difficulties that may arise from them can become a focal point for the family. These challenges are often in addition to the ups and downs of typical families and can add a new level of stress and concern to everyday life.

Thousands of families in our community face these realities. And unless you have experienced this situation firsthand, you might not be able to fully appreciate the complexities a disability can bring to a family.

We are fortunate that in Jewish Baltimore, we have The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and a cadre of dedicated professionals and volunteers who extend their hands in support to these families and individuals. The message delivered is clear: You are not alone; our Jewish community embraces and respects people of all abilities.

As co-chair of The Associated’s Caring Commission and co-chair of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Human Services and Public Policy Disability Committee, I am proud of the work we are doing to ensure that our communities are open and inclusive to people with disabilities and their families.

Last year, our community launched the Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance, a resource for people with disabilities and their families, both within and outside the Jewish community. In addition to a website with a resource directory and community forums, there is also a dedicated BJAA staff person. Other federation cities have since reached out to us for information about starting similar programs in their community.

For the last six years, we have celebrated our support for people with disabilities and their families with special programming in February, which has been designated Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month. This year, The Associated and the BJAA at the Jewish Community Center are hosting a conference on Feb. 4 to raise awareness and encourage meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities and their families. The conference will provide a Jewish context for inclusive practices.

Helping people with disabilities and their families enjoy a better quality of life is a priority for The Associated, which is actively engaged in initiatives to make this a reality by addressing some of the most pressing needs for people with disabilities, including job training and placement, housing and services for young adults as they transition from school-age to adulthood.

The Associated is one of five federations to receive a matching grant for the Ruderman Family Foundation Opportunity Initiative, sponsored by JFNA and the Ruderman Foundation. Through this generous grant, a young adult with a physical, intellectual or developmental disability will be placed as a paid intern at The Associated. Three interns will be selected and will work a minimum of 10 hours a week for 16 to 18 weeks. The first intern will begin work later this month.

As the parent of a young adult who was diagnosed at age 9 with a disability, I have seen the level of services in both the Jewish and general communities improve through the years. I am happy to witness this improvement and take great pride in the strides my own community has made to ensure that every Jew in Baltimore feels welcomed and respected.

Janet B. Livingston is co-chair of The Associated’s Caring Commission and co-chair of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Human Services and Public Policy Disability Committee. To learn about resources in the community for people with disabilities and their families, visit jewishabilities.org.

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