RAISE keeps on 'truckin' (virtually)


November 13, 2020

Rachel Slavkin and Loren London.

Many of the Jewish community facilities that partner with RAISE are not currently open, but it has not stopped RAISE Director Loren London, RAISE Director of Employment and Education Rachel Slavkin, and their leadership team from continuing with this year's program, albeit with a slightly modified virtual approach. The RAISE team quickly assessed the current COVID situation and decided to continue the RAISE program online by concentrating on the participants' job preparation and social skills so that when the doors open once again in the workforce, the participants will be better prepared to step right into the jobs waiting for them.

RAISE received an abundance of applications this year (more than they have ever received), and after interviews with the applicants and their parents, the number of participants was narrowed down to a "doable" 11. The participants - called as such because they aren't "employees" yet, as London explained - were divided into two groups according to their skill levels and started an 8-week RAISE Your Skills program via Zoom.

RAISE Your Skills is modeled after the weekly Lunch & Learn program RAISE participants formerly partook in. Since that is not an option at this time, RAISE Your Skills was designed to follow a similar format that teaches participants valuable pre-employment social skills.

Amy Weston, a member of the RAISE leadership team, leads one group and Slavkin leads the second group in learning these valuable skills. Slavkin very creatively incorporated into the interactive sessions power points, Zoom etiquette, games, role-playing and conversation to keep the participants actively involved.

An unforeseen bonus to RAISE Your Skills sessions is that the participants are learning to interview for a job via Zoom, an online format that is replacing the in-person interview during the pandemic. Many people are not comfortable with Zoom and don't know how to present themselves in a virtual interview. The RAISE participants are learning how to carry on a conversation, what body language says about a person, understanding passive and assertive behaviors, and how to participate in a virtual meeting.

Another dynamic to this year's RAISE program is RAISE Your Glass, which is a team building and educational opportunity for the volunteer job coaches. There are five Zoom RAISE Your Glass sessions between October and December in which the job coaches receive in depth information about Autism Spectrum Disorder, best practices for coaching and modeling skills, how to help participants set boundaries, and other relevant topics in the field of special needs - in essence, it's Special Needs 101 for the coaches. The job coaches have also been paired one-on-one with RAISE Your Skills participants. The job coaches and their participant meet weekly, via Facetime, which gives the participant the opportunity to engage in reciprocal conversation and to practice the skills learned in RAISE Your Skills. During these virtual meetings the job coaches model and reinforce the social skills and develop a meaningful relationship with their participant. The job coaches receive weekly updates from Slavkin to help guide these one-on-one conversations. The feedback from the parents has been positive and they have already noticed an increase in basic conversation skills with their son/daughter.

One more silver lining to this new protocol is RAISE Your Voice, an emotional support group for family members. Two volunteer therapists conduct the Zoom sessions to provide resources and connect families to each other.

London and Slavkin believe that the participants will be better prepared to step into a job as the business world opens to them, which always has been the purpose of RAISE.


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