Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Raising human spirits

I just came from one of the most inspiring luncheons I have ever attended. Even though this time of year is very busy with luncheons, office parties, and friend or family get-togethers, I am glad I took the time out of my day to be at this one.

It was the annual RAISE holiday luncheon. Like other gatherings, people were recognized, thank-you gifts were given, and a fun gift exchange kept everyone laughing (I really wanted that Olive Garden gift card, and I had it for but a brief moment). But there was just something about this particular luncheon. The invited guests were RAISE former employees and current employees, their job coaches, family liaisons, and the team who are the glue of this program—the professional social workers, vocational trainers and job placers. At the top of the team are Loren London, whose inspiration and gumption took this program from a possibility to a reality, and Rachel Slavkin, director of Employment and Education, who keeps RAISE a viable reality.

Speaking of Slavkin, she can use anything to educate. Take for example that gift exchange I mentioned. In addition to everything else she does, Slavkin works with the employees on their social graces such as asking for something and gladly giving (those are social graces we all can work on). In the gift exchange, participants can choose between an unopened gift or take one from someone who has already opened a gift. Slavkin kept reminding people that they can take an opened gift. Some employees were shy about taking a gift, all who gave up a gift seemed to do so with a giving spirit (well, there were a few who weren’t employees who struggled a bit, like I said I wanted that Olive Garden gift card.)

More than 70 people turned out to laugh and share experiences: One young man, Cameron, who is full of confidence and joy (he is always smiling and walks with the most confidant stride), told me with pride he now works at the Science Center; another shy young man, Jay, is employed at Rollins Library; one young woman, Kenya, who is always positive and brightens the day of everyone who is around her, works as a receptionist at ReMax; and one a little-bit-older gentleman, Jason, has now worked at Universal Studios for over a year.

All of these RAISE employees—the former and the current—have a confidence about themselves that perhaps was not there in their pasts. Their parents rejoice at the significant changes in their children. This program not only helped them make a paycheck, it raised (hmm there’s that word again) their self-esteem, skill levels, communication levels, all of which opened the world to each of these employees.

Jay’s father, Sanjay, shared his feelings of trepidation when Jay first came to RAISE. “What has my son gotten into?” He thought at the first Meet and Greet gathering. But as Jay progressed in his new job with his job coach, and Sanjay attended the monthly Family Lunch and Learn programs, he saw how RAISE not only inspired his son, but “raised” his own spirit and all the people involved in the RAISE program had their spirits “raised” as well. RAISE wasn’t only life changing for Jay, but for the entire family.

In the Nov. 30 issue of Heritage, Lenore Roland, the parent of a former RAISE employee, expressed it best when she wrote, “[It’s] not unusual when your dream for the future becomes a powerful possibility, one that can change the direction of you and your family’s life.”

What RAISE started out as—a vehicle to provide jobs at the various Jewish agencies for people with special needs—has become so much more. The acronym stands for Recognizing Abilities & Inclusion of Special Employees, however, this program truly does tikkun olam by raising the human spirit in everyone who encounters it.


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