RAISE invited to Fedovation at GA
The success of a program can best be measured by how it has affected its participants. Entering its seventh month of operation, RAISE (Recognizing Abilities and Inclusion of Special Employees) has proven to be on track with its goal to offer its participants the chance to recognize their self-worth by contributing to their own success and the satisfaction of being a participating member of society.
And now the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando is proud to announced that the RAISE program has been selected in a nationwide competition to give a presentation at this year's Jewish Federation of North America's General Assembly (GA) in Maryland. The General Assembly is the most significant gathering of thousands of Jewish communal and Federation leaders and volunteers from the U.S. and around the world. Last May, the RAISE program was submitted into the Fedovation competition for innovative programming along with more than 150 competing Federations and 300 independent communities.
Loren London, RAISE program coordinator, will be presenting the program in a TED-style format at one of the FEDovation breakout sessions.
At this year's GA conference, there will be much discussion and recognition of the inclusion of individuals with disabilities and their families into "the mosaic that is Judaism," as described in the GA program seminar titled Disability Inclusion and the Federation Movement: Why, How, And the Time is Now. The GA explains that a community that allows "disability inclusion" is "an inclusive community... that accepts the role each individual plays in the community, welcomes everyone with respect and dignity, and celebrates diversity while creating a sense of unity."
Since RAISE was started last April, three new employees have come onboard, and one employee was hired by a local law firm for a permanent position. In addition, RAISE has added a new assistant librarian position at the Jewish Academy of Orlando and a preschool assistant at the Roth JCC. London also has been working with Kinneret and UCF Hillel with plans for the eventual addition of more jobs.
At this time, Heritage would like to introduce our readers to five of these outstanding employees and their job coaches. Each employee is paid to work one to two days a week for 3 hours each in either the same position or in two different positions. Matthew works in the JFS Orlando food pantry and in the JCC fitness center. His job coaches were originally Renee Roberts and Lois Tannenbaum, although Matthew is now working independently in both positions.
When entering the Roth JCC, the smiling face that greets you at the reception desk twice a week is Jamie. Her job coaches are Joy Clark, Polly Pollak and Robin Warner, who just recently joined the RAISE team.
Michael works at the reception desk at JFS and also does miscellaneous office work there. His job coaches are Sandy Osborn and Bonnie Finfer.
Rob recently accepted a job with a law firm but previously worked at the JCC fitness center coached by Barbara Weinreich.
Erica works at the JCC preschool with Marlene Volk on Wednesdays and at the Jewish Academy library with Tannenbaum on Thursdays.
The two newest employees are Cameron who works at the JCC preschool with Sue Checefsky and Weinreich, and Travis who works at the JCC fitness center with Roberts.
The job coaches don't really "work" with the employees. They are there to help if needed-to coach them along. And as each employee becomes more independent, the coaches step back a little more.
The employees are glad to have the coaching, as Jamie said, "I love my job coaches and they are very helpful to me."
All of the coaches are volunteering their time, which is usually three to six hours a week, and each has different reasons for doing so.
Tannenbaum shared what some of the other coaches felt: "As a member of the Jewish community, I believe in tzedakah. My belief in the mission and my desire to make a difference fulfills a personal need."
Weinreich serves on the JFGO board of directors and voted that the Federation should support it. "Therefore, I feel I should put some personal effort into seeing that is succeeds."
Some of the coaches are retired professionals. "In my case, volunteering with RAISE allows me to keep my professional mind/experience active," said Sandy Grider.
Sue Checefsky worked in the public school system in Exceptional Student Education for 35 years. "I have witnessed the end of services to ESE adults, and then what? There is a lengthy wait list for support with state services, and even then there are 'in between' adults needing different support than what is currently offered," she explained, describing RAISE as a "one-of-a-kind" program.
RAISE is filling a void. It is a unique program that may venture into other Jewish communities after London shares the program at the GA gathering.
All of the job coaches have seen improvement in the employees including independence and confidence in their jobs, developing social skills, staying focused on task and self-correcting if they fall off-task.
"As they learn and earn, they're gaining self-respect, a valuable asset for all our citizens," said Weinreich.
What value does RAISE bring to the community?
"RAISE gives a purpose to life, offers pride to the employee and makes a difference," said Tannenbaum. "The community will benefit from these young adults who will enter the workforce and make us all proud."
"I think RAISE is filling a void within the life-experiences of individuals with special needs," said Sandy Grider. "Once these individuals age out of public education, there is little support for them to acquire employment beyond a sheltered workshop. RAISE allows their employees to have the extra support they need to develop more independent work skills and confidence."
Marlene Volk, who just started volunteering with RAISE in August put it simply, "I feel the program provides a path for persons with disabilities to achieve a purpose and to feel good about themselves in return."
Local businesses that would like to consider hiring employees with disabilities can call Loren London at 407-645-5933, ext. 236.