Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

RAISE set to enter its second year

It was one year ago in April that RAISE (Recognizing Abilities and Inclusion of Special Employees) was launched with five employees who worked part-time, two days a week for three hours at The Roth Family JCC and JFS Orlando. A third day was spent participating in a group social skills class called "Lunch and Learn," that included the employees (and once a month their families as well).

Under the umbrella of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, this program has truly been a group endeavor with the involvement of professionals, volunteer job coaches, agency representatives, the employees and their families. And it has proven to be successful. During the course of the year, two more positions were added for a total of seven gainfully employed adults with special needs; several employees successfully obtained employment out in the community, creating opportunities for new employees to come into the program.

Now, as RAISE approaches another new "cycle," beginning in August, positions will be available at the Roth JCC, JFS Orlando, the Jewish Academy of Orlando and Kinneret. RAISE also is looking forward to expanding employment to Hillel at UCF. Applications for positions will once again be accepted for applicants ages 18 or older. Also, RAISE continues to create awareness of the need for employment for adults with disabilities.

"Business by business, the RAISE team is opening doors to new jobs right in our own backyard," Loren London, RAISE program coordinator, said in an interview with Orange Appeal magazine. "Hiring an adult with special needs benefits the employer, the employee, and society, and the RAISE team is willing to meet with any interested business to explain and facilitate the process."

The RAISE program is not an employment agency. It works alongside Two 6 Resources job placement center. RAISE was designed to be a six- to 12-month work and social skills training program. Each employee has worked side-by-side with usually two job coaches (a total of 14 job coaches in all). Through the guidance of their coaches, the Lunch and Learn sessions run by Rachel Slavkin, M.Ed., and the rest of the "Dream Team," comprised of London, Carol Miller, LCSW, director of Social Bridges, and program adviser Ken Schneider, Ed.D., former director of Exceptional Students Education in Orange County, the employees have gained confidence in their job and social skills.

RAISE also engages in community outreach by providing Lakewood Center in Fern Park with Jewish Holiday programming and creates opportunities for volunteerism. RAISE employees have even stepped out from the comfort of their jobs and participated in community events. One employee, Cameron, was a guest speaker on behalf of RAISE at this year's Choices and the Roth JCC's annual meeting; and all the employees helped usher at the Roth JCC production of "Fiddler on the Roof."

Last fall, the RAISE program was selected to give a presentation in a nationwide Fedovation competition at the Jewish Federation of North America's General Assembly.

During its first year, the RAISE program has continued to grow in ways that are beneficial to its employees. A community alliance was created with Best Buddies of Central Florida, an organization that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships. Best Buddies recently launched the Citizen's Program, which helps to fill a social need as it matches up adults with and without disabilities and fosters ongoing friendships based upon personal interests.

The Lunch and Learn Group meetings cover a vast area of topics. Past speakers have included Robby Etzkin and Carol Miller, who spoke on Social Media and the Workplace; and Mitch Bloomer, the Holocaust Center education resource teacher, spoke on Diversity in the Workplace, addressing the need for respect for all in the workplace.

Perhaps the best gauge of these employees' growth has been the comments made by their parents.

Jill Bonn stated that RAISE was instrumental in helping her daughter, Erica. "I definitely think it helped Erica to get the job she has now because of the work experience. She had been looking for a job for two years with a different VR (Vocational Rehabilitation) provider and had never been offered one job."

Lisa Prewitt said, "Before the program we did not know what Nicholas was going to do. He did not have the skills necessary to work at a job and he didn't want to go college because of his learning disability. He graduated high school and there didn't seem to be anything for him to do. He was with vocational rehabilitation services but we did not know what direction to take to get Nicholas the skills he needed. He lacked self-confidence and had so much anxiety about his future. Since he has been with the program his whole outlook about the future has changed. He is excited about his future and wants to find a job now. The support of the staff and job coaches and the weekly lunch and learn time with the other employees has given Nicholas the skills and confidence he was lacking. This program has made all the difference in our life and I am so happy to see all the progress Nicholas has made in just a few months." 

RAISE Job coaches are continually inspired at the RAISE Your Glass monthly team get-togethers, which are educational and team building. Recently, it came to London's attention that the job coaches didn't have any type of badge that identified who they are as they each coach their employee. Badges were created and at this past month's RAISE Your Glass, senior job coaches (those who have been in the program for one year) were presented with a gold identification badge with their title on it. Newer job coaches will wear a white and blue identification badge.

One of the metrics for Accomplishment of the employee's work and social skills training evaluation is based on measurement tools used to assess their accomplishments, which are determined based upon individual improvement (i.e. an employee's ability to complete tasks with less support as they work toward independence).

Arthur R. Louv, grandfather of Cameron, gave his own version of "Metrics of Accomplishments" for the RAISE program:

"After our participation in RAISE, I think RAISE is unique in providing special needs individuals with a job training and educational experience, which is truly unique and beneficial to both employees and the families. And I know Cam agrees-he is always happy to get to a RAISE program or event, and to his job at the JCC on time and ready to go.

"Here are some examples of unique RAISE benefits I see:

1. One-on-one job coaching by volunteers with experience as parents and/or teachers. And the coaching is designed to evolve into independent performance by the employee.

2. Jobs which provide each employee with an employer supervisor who can be a mentor on the job, in addition to the support and direction by the job coach.

3. Earning a salary for the work done, with the corresponding responsibilities to be on time, do a good job, fill out time sheets and turn then in accurately and on time: Do your job-earn your pay.

4. Learning to budget and spend the money earned.

5. "Lunch & Learn" (L&L) Mondays, facilitated by Social Bridges. In a staffing conference-type setting, the employees learn teamwork, communication and cooperation, and individual conduct in a work environment. All the real-world skills they will need are expertly presented in the L&L experience. In addition, L&L pays the employees for the time spent in class, with the corresponding responsibilities to really participate and learn from the experience.

6. Opportunities for the employees to volunteer and provide extra-curricular support for the Federation, JCC and JFS. It's great for the student-employees to have the opportunity to say thank you and give back for what they get.

7. Finally, you and the team have created a RAISE experience that gives us, the parents, a truly welcoming opportunity to participate, to the extent we wish, in and with our employee's experience. That alone makes the RAISE program special and uniquely successful, and gives me comfort."

For more information about job applications for positions opening in August, volunteering or making a donation, visit http://www.jfgo.org/RAISE or call the Federation at 407-645-5933 ext. 236.


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