Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

A walk through the RAISE program

Lenore Roland was invited to be a guest speaker at the annual RAISE Meet & Greet, held Sept. 27, when new RAISE employees and their families are welcomed. She is the mother of a former RAISE employee, and a professional writer.

At this introductory meeting of the RAISE program, you may be feeling a rush of emotions—optimism, fear, hope, uncertainty, and excitement. That’s not unusual when your dream for the future becomes a powerful possibility, one that can change the direction of your and your family’s life. The RAISE program educates and trains young adults with special needs, preparing them to explore job opportunities.

I invite you to join me for a short walk on the RAISE Road, unlike any road you have traveled before. Though it doesn’t lead to the Wizard of Oz, it does introduce you to the RAISE wizards; program founder and director, Loren London; and director of Employment and Education, Rachel Slavkin; as well as their leadership team of professionals. Along with local agencies and staff, trained volunteer coaches, and speakers, they expand the horizon for young adults, most of whom are unemployed and living at home.

Each step of the RAISE journey links to the next with no cracks or gaping spaces. Built on a strong foundation—knowledge of our community, attention to detail, professional experience, and understanding of and compassion for the participants—RAISE is unique in its approach.

Our first stop is at Jewish Family Services in Central Florida, located on Lee Road in Orlando. Quietly enter the room and take a seat at the long wooden table. On this last Monday of the month, the Family Lunch and Learn hour-long program is in session, educating both the young adults and their “Parent Liaisons.”

Loren and Rachel are conducting the meeting with efficiency and humor. Each month a professional is invited to speak about a pertinent topic: preparing for or searching for a job, e.g., filling out a job application or rehearsing for an interview.

During the other three weeks of the month, Rachel conducts Lunch and Learn meetings for the young adults only. She reviews job skills and encourages them to interact with each other.

Our next stop is the job site of one young adult, who, like all the young adults, is referred to as an “employee.” The title helps to increase her self-esteem and confidence. Assigned to a local Jewish organization, she is answering phone calls and doing paper work at the Jewish Family Services’ front desk. Her job coach is present to answer questions and guide her. The employee’s progress is measured by her decreasing reliance on her coach and her increasing sense of independence.

All employees are required to work two days a week on three-hour shifts for six to 12 months. In a safe environment, the employees learn and practice skills such as following a schedule, arriving on time, dressing appropriately and communicating clearly. Everyone—staff, parents, employees, agency personnel—is well informed via email about progress reports, ongoing programs, future events, and holiday celebrations.

Now let’s move ahead to observe employees submitting weekly time sheets for hours of work and attendance at Lunch and Learn meetings. When they receive their paychecks, they stand taller as their self-worth increases. If they demonstrate outstanding work, they are honored at a Lunch and Learn session and receive an Employee of the Month certificate. Recognition is an integral part of the program.

Though RAISE is not an employment agency, it works closely with many job placement centers and Vocational Rehabilitation, whose consultants identify the employees’ interests and goals to find the best job match. In addition, RAISE contacts local businesses—the list is growing—to explore additional opportunities.

At the end of the RAISE road, a celebration is in progress. Join the special farewell for an employee who has landed a job in the outside world. Partake of the desserts and beverages provided for the occasion and congratulate the honoree, who receives a framed official plaque for successfully completing the RAISE program. With newfound confidence and knowledge, he/she will now embark on another road, looking ahead to a bright new beginning.


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