Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

RAISE brings hiring in house

RAISE (Recognizing Abilities & Inclusion of Special Employees), the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando’s work and social skills training program for adults with special needs, has a new job creation division called RAISE Awareness to Hire.

“RAISE Awareness to Hire works with local businesses to provide a simple and seamless transition for adults with disabilities from the nurturing environment of RAISE into the more competitive marketplace,” said Loren London, RAISE founder and director.

Rachel Slavkin, RAISE director of Employment and Education and Amy Weston, RAISE transition specialist are overseeing RAISE Awareness to Hire.

According to Slavkin, RAISE Awareness to Hire offers businesses onsite visitation and “job carving” to meet employers’ needs, customized job placement, and a review of Work Opportunity Tax Credits that benefit employers hiring adults with disabilities. 

Five RAISE employees who found jobs in the community thanks to RAISE Awareness to Hire shared their stories with Heritage. These stories show how both RAISE employees and their employers have benefitted from the program. Only the first names of the employees are used, and some names have been changed for privacy.

Samuel* worked at JFS Orlando and at the Jewish Community Center, as a RAISE employee. While employed at JFS Orlando, Samuel was assigned a wide range of administrative tasks. He performed his duties with the highest degree of efficiency, productivity and professionalism, and demonstrated a strong work ethic. He noted the positive correlation between gainful employment and self-worth.

Nearing the end of his tenure at RAISE, a temporary position became available at Buhler and Associates. He seized the opportunity and parlayed a temporary position into part-time employment with increasing responsibility and duties.

“The position became permanent part-time because [Samuel] is such a hard worker and is a pleasure to be around. After working on the scanning project, Chuck Buhler wanted to offer him meaningful work with an eye towards advancing him along in a potential career path,” said Jeanne Smith, marketing director for the Law Office of Catherine E. Davey, P.A.

Samuel is currently thriving and experiencing a sense of dignity and competency that far exceeded his expectations.

“RAISE is an amazing organization, and we are so happy to work with them whenever we can do so,” said Smith.

Kenya has been working at Abby Nelson’s Great Home Groups Remax with business owner Abby Nelson for several months. She works one day a week handwriting thank you notes and performing general clerical duties.

Nelson couldn’t be happier with Kenya’s work. “She is doing fantastically! I’m consistently amazed at her capabilities and the joy she brings into the office with her never-ending smile,” Nelson said.

Kenya was in the RAISE program for a year where she practiced the social skills needed for job success and developed the confidence needed to seek employment in the community. While in RAISE, Kenya worked one day a week at the JCC Fitness Center and one day a week at Kinneret. In both positions, Kenya’s responsibilities included keeping her work sites sparkling clean. She always had a smile on her face whether it was doing the laundry, cleaning the equipment at the JCC or vacuuming the hallways at Kinneret. 

Ali Polejes, owner of Richard Incentives, hired Robert in August 2017. He works approximately two days a week in this home-based office doing filing, organizing, data entry and some product research. 

“For me, this has been a wonderful experience. We really benefit each other,” said Polejes. Robert’s help has saved Polejes time that she would have been spending keeping everything up-to-date with the product lines she carries in her business. Another “plus” is that Robert speaks fluent Spanish (a skill Polejes didn’t know he had) and has been the translator between Polejes and her Spanish housekeeper.

While in RAISE, Robert worked at JFS Orlando as a receptionist and office assistant. After not having worked for many years, Robert gained confidence and a renewed work ethic in the RAISE program, which helped him to be successful in his new job.

Linda* gained the confidence needed to leave the safe nest of RAISE and begin working at Orlando Day Nursery with Julie Carleton, senior director of Business and Development, and Morgan Morgan, director. Linda’s dream job has always been to work with children and through RAISE Awareness to Hire, her dreams have become a reality. At Orlando Day Nursery Linda is able to combine her love of children with her artistic abilities to help the children with some arts and crafts projects. She also works as office support as well.

“Social justice and collaborative initiatives are values Orlando Day promotes as a means to support its mission,” said Carleton. “Supporting RAISE and Linda helps achieve all of these goals.”

Last May, Heritage wrote about Caitlin, who has been working at FASTSIGNS Orlando Central with business owner Renee Friedman and Kayla Brateger since April 2017. Caitlin started working three days a week for three hours each day. As Friedman and Brateger realized that Caitlin was a tremendous asset to FASTSIGNS Orlando Central, they increased her hours to five days a week, four hours each day.

Caitlin spent almost a year in the RAISE program learning the responsibilities of having a job and developing the self-confidence needed to leave RAISE and work in the community. While in RAISE, Caitlin worked at Hillel at UCF one day a week where she helped organize the supply closets, take inventory, set tables for Shabbat dinner, replenish the snacks for the students, keep the tables and work surfaces clean, and give treats to the lovable Hillel dog, Reggie Additionally she worked at the JCC Welcome Center where she made membership packets, sorted and delivered the mail, and performed general clerical duties.

At FASTSIGNS Orlando Central Caitlin greets customers, keeps the break room stocked and clean, helps with printing and folding flyers. She also checks and opens the mail each day, labels and puts postage on marketing materials, counts the cash box, prepares marketing folders and give-a-ways and so much more.

“Caitlin has been a fantastic addition to our team! Immediately, she filled a need and became a valuable employee. We created the administrative assistant job for her and continue to add responsibilities as they develop.” said Friedman. “She takes great pride in everything she does and loves being part of the team. She starts her day by attending and often contributing to our Work Start Team meetings.”

Friedman values Caitlin beyond being just an employee.

“[Caitlin] often joins the team when we are giving back to the community,” Friedman explained. Some activities Caitlin has joined in include Bowling for Charity with the Apartment Association, attending the Charity Ball for Compassionate Hands and Hearts, stocking the food bank at JFS, delivering gifts to WFTV Channel 9 Toys for Tots and Bowling for Charity for the AutoNation Curebowl.

“The most exciting news,” Friedman shared, “is that she will be joining me in Houston at the Friends of Down Syndrome Cinderella Ball where my niece goes to the Academy. While we’re in town, Caitlin will be speaking to the students at the Academy at a special assembly. She will be speaking about her job, what motivates her, eating healthy and exercising. We are thrilled about this.”

The local businesses that hired RAISE employees learned about the program in many different ways, and often by word of mouth or from someone who knows someone.

“We found out about Samuel from Amy Weston, who is a job coach for one of our other employees and is a volunteer with RAISE [and now RAISE transition specialist],” Smith shared. “When she told us about [Samuel], we got the word out and our legal secretary, Carol, said her husband was looking for someone on a temporary basis. The rest is history.”

The reason Smith got involved with RAISE is because she is the staff person for a nonprofit called No Down Side, which was started by Catherine Davey, owner of the Law Office of Catherine E. Davey, P.A. No Down Side (www.nodownside.org) promotes meaningful employment for people with disabilities.

Interestingly, Carleton learned about RAISE through a RAISE staff member while attending a Business as Usual networking event.

Abby Nelson learned about RAISE through Renee Friedman (owner of FASTSIGNS—Orlando Central). “The instant she started telling me about the program I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I then met Loren London and began the search for the right fit!”

Ali Polejes attended a networking event hosted by Friedman and Nelson. The speakers were Loren London and Rachel Slavkin. “I thought, ‘is this something I can be a part of?” said Polejes. She told Slavkin her needs, to which Slavkin replied that she had the “perfect fit.” For Polejes, it was a great connection.

If you know a business owner interested in hiring an adult with special needs or would like to find out more about RAISE Awareness to Hire, please visit http://www.orlandojewishfed.org/raise.


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