RAISE continues to impact lives


(L-r), Renee Friedman, owner of FastSigns Orlando Central, with new employee Caitlin and Kayla Bratager, FastSigns marketing coordinator and Caitlin's boss. According to Friedman, Kayla 'has really embraced this program and I couldn't do it without her!'

RAISE, a work and social skills training program for adults with special needs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, is celebrating its third successful year. Just this month, two of its current participants have moved on to new jobs. And, as always happens with RAISE, more than one person was involved in the process of making this happen.

Take Caitlin for example. She spent six-months in RAISE and was recently hired to work at FASTSIGNS Orlando Central by owner Renee Friedman, who saw the positive impact inclusive hiring can have.

Her "new beginnings" started at a neighborhood Labor-day cookout last year. Jenny Porter, who works at The Roth Family JCC Fitness Center, just happened to strike up a conversation with Caitlin and told her about the RAISE program. She encouraged Caitlin to apply to the program. Caitlin was intrigued and did apply. Later she was excited to learn she had been accepted.

"We are so glad we met Jenny Porter!" exclaimed Caitlin's mother, Vicki.

Caitlin attended weekly Lunch & Learn programs, led by Rachel Slavkin at Social Bridges®, which taught her workplace skills and reinforced her social skills.

"RAISE is offered by the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando and is a vitally important program in our community," Vicki wrote in an email to Loren London, RAISE program coordinator. "So many times our adults faced with challenges are, oddly enough, not challenged to meet their full potential. Programs like RAISE do that. RAISE trains without demeaning. The curriculum teaches responsible time-management skills, interviewing skills, teamwork, appropriate on-the-job interaction skills with fellow workers."

Caitlin made new friends and with the guidance of her job coaches, Barbara Chasnov and JoAnne Kane, she practiced her newly learned skills at her job sites at the JCC and Central Florida Hillel at UCF. The job-site staffs serving as work-site liaisons for RAISE-Marni Chepenik at the JCC and Sam Friedman at Hillel-welcomed her to their work environments. Employment specialist Antonela from Two-6 Resources job placement center was confident of Caitlin's abilities and also helped her during the job search process.

"Caitlin now has a job in the community," Vicki stated. "She proudly owns her accomplishments but everyone at RAISE participated in those accomplishments. We shout out a resounding 'thank you' to everyone at RAISE!"

"We at RAISE look back and are proud of our effective teamwork, clear communication and collaboration with partnering agencies, Central Florida Hillel and The Roth Family JCC. At the end of the day, one very kind, thoughtful woman like Jenny Porter opened the door for Caitlin," said London.

Another recent transition is that of Stuart, who was in the RAISE program for six months also. He was offered a temp position at a local law firm and the past few weeks have been wonderful for Stuart.

His mother, Dorothy, shared with RAISE some of her thoughts about the program.

"The first thing that came to mind was 'all in good time.'... The RAISE program did not exist five years ago-timing for this idea to grow and become a reality in the community just to serve at this very time. As young adults who are participating in the program [they] had to be ready-time to mature, time to develop an attitude of acceptance, desire to want more for [themselves].

Dorothy continued, "The other word that came to mind was hope... RAISE is a program of hope, true to their mission statement of 'offering a work and social skills training program that builds confidence and support to adults with special needs.' The entire team at RAISE beat with one heart to provide an environment where participants in the program can grow easily."

As with Caitlin, Stuart attended the Lunch & Learn programs where he improved his social skills and practiced with his peers. Through Social Bridges®, which Dorothy says is one of the key components that make this program work so well, Rachel Slavkin, as the RAISE director of Employment and Education, creates the curriculum for the participants that help them with their verbal and nonverbal communication skills and appropriateness of behavior in the workplace.

"What a remarkable program," Dorothy stated. "The RAISE participants begin their job search with skills and training above and beyond that of the average person searching for their first job! All the young people in this program and their families will never forget this experience, it will guide us always."

Vicki described the program best with this: "It does take a village and RAISE is such a village and this village is filled with people whose sole purpose is to invest their time and energies into positively impacting the lives of these young adults and their families."

The Central Florida Jewish community is also that "village." Do you have an opportunity in your business for a special needs adult? Do you know a special needs adult that could benefit from the RAISE program? Do you want to volunteer once a week as a RAISE Job Coach?

To find out more, please contact RAISE Program Coordinator Loren London by calling JFGO at 407.645.5933 ext 236 or going online at jfgo.org/RAISE.


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