New beginnings with RAISE
September 15, 2017
Seated at a wide, long table in a room at Jewish Family Services in Central Florida are seven young adults (over the age of 18) with special needs, each accompanied by one parent who has agreed to participate as required, for this experience is a family matter. Most of the young people live at home with their parents and are not employed.
It is 12:30 p.m., on the last Monday of the month, and the Lunch and Learn hour-long session organized by Recognizing Abilities and Inclusion of Special Employees has begun. A program supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, RAISE charges participants no fee and is open to all who want to apply.
At the front of the room a professional speaks about a topic related to preparing or searching for a job: e.g., filling out a job application, rehearsing for an interview, signing up for the computer program Linked In, which they can use to review job postings. When the speaker has finished, they practice the specific procedure just taught or write answers to questions about that day's subject with the help of their parent.
Rachel Slavkin, M.Ed., RAISE director of Employment and Education, and Loren London, founder and program director, conduct this meeting with efficiency and humor. Participants are referred to as "employees," a term that lifts their self esteem. It is well deserved. These young adults work 3-hour shifts, two days a week at an assigned local Jewish organization. Every aspect of this learn and work program is intended to increase confidence and develop enthusiasm for this unique experience.
In a smaller venue, Slavkin also leads weekly Lunch and Learn meetings for employees only. They review job skills, interact with each other and learn about local volunteer opportunities, which offer them a chance to give back to the community for the training they receive at no charge.
Though RAISE is not an employment agency, it works closely with many job placement centers such as Two 6 Resources. The centers' consultants arrange meetings with RAISE employees to determine their interests and goals, which they consider in their search for the best job match. To expand the choices, RAISE contacts local businesses to communicate the employment needs of these adults with disabilities.
Like a finely wrought sculpture, each piece of the RAISE program is connected to another, creating a perfect balance. There are no cracks in its structure. It was created with intelligence, care, understanding and compassion. For six to 12 months, the employees learn and practice their newfound skills in a safe environment. Everyone-staff, parents, employees, agencies-is well informed via email not only about progress reports but also ongoing programs, future events, and holiday celebrations.
Employees learn to follow a schedule, arrive on time, dress appropriately and communicate clearly. At each work site, a highly trained RAISE volunteer serves as a job coach, answering questions and guiding employees one-on-one. The coaches measure progress by the employees' increasing independence while completing their tasks.
At the end of each week, employees submit time sheets and receive paychecks, which also cover time spent at Lunch and Learn meetings. It pays to be responsible RAISE employees. If employees demonstrate outstanding work on the job, they are presented with a special certificate at a Lunch and Learn meeting. Recognition is an integral part of the program. When they secure jobs in the outside world, they enjoy a special farewell with desserts and beverages and receive a framed official plaque attesting to their successful experience. Their empty seats will not remain unoccupied for long. New employees will eagerly claim them.
Every August marks a new cycle for RAISE. The word is sent out to prospective employees and their families by Heritage Florida Jewish News, organizations with RAISE connections and word of mouth. RAISE's staff reviews submissions for admission, conducts interviews and selects a new group. Then RAISE begins again this extraordinary journey, shining light on a new beginning for these young adults with special needs and their families.