Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

'RAISE' the bar for special needs


Loren London

The Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando has an exciting new initiative in the works. In March 2014, RAISE (Recognizing Abilities and Inclusion of Special Employees) will be rolled out to the community. RAISE is a JFGO program that will offer a part-time paid work experience to adults with special needs. JFGO will work with local Jewish organizations to place special needs adults in job roles. By providing a part-time work experience, RAISE will offer each adult with special needs that participates the opportunity to enhance self-worth that comes from earning a paycheck, the satisfaction of being a contributing member of society, an accepting work environment, the self-respect that comes with productivity, the dignity of 'having a job', a feeling of contribution and independence, and the social benefit of interfacing with our community in a safe and compassionate setting.

This program will be open to any adult (18 years of age or older) in the community who faces physical, medical, psychological, or educational disabilities that preclude him or her from leading a typical life and poses challenges to procuring work opportunities in the community at large. To participate in RAISE, there needs to be the commitment of one reliable family member or friend to serve as the liaison between the adult with special needs and staff members. If you know of someone who fits this criteria and would be interested in participating please call the Jewish Federation at 407-645-5933x 236 or visit http://www.JFGO.org . Potential candidates for employment will be asked to participate in a screening and application process to ensure they are an appropriate fit for the program

"The Federation is pleased to be a trailblazer in the Jewish community for such an initiative. Being able to spearhead a community effort of inclusion for adults with special needs will benefit individuals, families, and our entire Jewish community." said Michael Soll, chairman of the board.

RAISE, is the brainchild of local community member, Loren London. She has been involved with the Jewish Federation and Orlando's Jewish community for many years in a wide variety of leadership roles. Her passion to ensure this program comes to fruition has been remarkable.

"I never expected that my life would involve supporting someone in my family with special needs. Over the past decade I have come to recognize the enormous obstacles and challenges that so many individuals with special needs face as they struggle to feel a part of our community life. Not fitting in and feeling invisible is a daily experience for so many. And that feeling of exclusion is something that most of us never have to experience. RAISE presents an opportunity for the Jewish community to be more inclusive to a group of otherwise marginalized adults that deserve to feel like they are special and belong," London said.

There is a place in Jewish life for people with special needs and it is up to this community to welcome them. As a whole for this community, RAISE brings an opportunity for increasing awareness, acceptance and understanding. It's an opportunity to break down pre-conceived ideas and misconceptions and overcome stereotypes for community members that may otherwise have little interaction with adults with special needs.

At this time, many community and campus agencies have been invited to partner with JFGO to provide work opportunities. Jewish Family Services has committed to partner with JFGO to select volunteers (who will be trained by Social Bridges™) to serve as one-on-one job coaches for each employee. Social Bridges™ of Winter Park has also partnered with RAISE and will provide professional assessment, evaluation, supervision and programming for RAISE. RAISE will work alongside Two 6 Resources, Inc., a vocational placement center, with the goal of linking prospective community employers in the competitive job market with qualified job applicants.

This initiative comes at an exciting time placing JFGO on the cutting edge of efforts in Jewish communities for adults with special needs. As an indication of the importance of this issue, starting in 2014, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Ruderman Family Foundation are launching a groundbreaking initiative to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities. The Ruderman Family Foundation Opportunity Initiative, will place young adults with disabilities in internships and fellowships at five federations across the country, as well as in JFNA's Washington office. Much like RAISE, the internship program focuses on providing meaningful employment opportunities and career training. "We believe that this initiative, in collaboration with JFNA, will help change the culture in our Jewish institutions by making them more inclusive," said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. "By making people with disabilities more visible, we will raise awareness of the importance of inclusion, thus strengthening the Jewish community and benefitting us all."

If you are interested in volunteering for RAISE or for more information about RAISE or to learn more about the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando's programming initiatives, visit http://www.jfgo.org.


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