February 22, 2012
Finding their place [VIDEO]
Twentysomethings with special needs are mainstreaming themselves into independence
(Page 3 - Previous Page)
Judy Mark and activist Michelle Wolf (Wolf writes the “Jews and Special Needs” blog on jewishjournal.com) are working with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to send a mission to Israel this summer that will look at some successful models there.
Kishorit is a kibbutz where 140 individuals with special needs, along with staff and family, aim to be self-sustaining, growing their own food and working in microindustries, including raising dogs and building children’s furniture. Right now Kishorit is far from self-sustaining, even with Israel’s generous government support, but Mark believes it can be a model for California, either for a farm or an urban setting.
Others seek fuller integration with the mainstream.
Tara Reisbaum was inspired by her work as founding director of Camp Ramah in California’s Ezra program, where young adults with special needs learn vocational and living skills at camp.
Reisbaum envisions an urban replica, where a building could house those in need of the most support, while others live in supported apartments nearby, coming there for services, enrichment or Jewish programming.
She approached the Jewish Home, a residential facility for the elderly, to explore developing housing for disabled adults. The Jewish Home said through a spokesperson that while the idea is in their strategic plan, nothing is on the table right now.
Reisbaum teaches and counsels Banayan, Levine and some of the others who live in the Westwood apartments, and consults with their families and others on next steps.
She said one of the biggest obstacles so far is money. These models all have enormous start-up costs, as well as significant monthly costs for residents. She said around 30 families met just this month to discuss the issue, and are looking into existing programs that may be adapted to their needs.
Etta Israel also found cost an obstacle when it tried to launch J-CHAI (Jewish Community Housing for Adult Independence), which proposes placing residents into apartment buildings in the largely Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood. J-CHAI would offer case-management services and Jewish programming, giving parents peace of mind, now and for when they’re gone.
The model, which Held is ready to implement as soon as he has takers, would cost around $3,000-$4,000 a month per resident, including rent, which participants could partially cover with their SSI payments. Some parents worry that Etta Israel would be religiously restricting, but Held said the apartments would offer the freedom they need to express their Judaism.
The residents in Westwood are essentially using the J-CHAI model, but it depends on parent involvement — which families admit doesn’t bode well for long-term stability.
“The bottom line is, I oversee everything she does. I’m very involved in her life,” says Haleh Banayan, Jasmine’s mother. “I don’t go there every day, but I talk to her 10 times a day, and I’m always working in the background.”
Haleh Banayan is president of Etta Israel’s Persian chapter, which attempts to break the stigmatization of special needs.
In addition, the residents are on their own at night. Haleh Banayan says she spends a lot of her time managing relationships, both roommate and romantic. Money management — paying a restaurant bill, or getting the right change — is also a huge issue for those with special needs, as is safety and avoiding financial and physical predators.
“Of course I worry all the time, but I have to trust Jasmine’s ability to do things,” Banayan says, “and I have to believe in her.”
Over the last few years, the Jewish community, which once offered little to those with special needs, has done a complete turnaround, observers agree, providing the spiritual and social texture often missing for those with disabilities. Much of that growth focused on youth, but the last few years has seen an increase in offerings for adults.
Susan North Gilboa runs Our Space at Temple Aliyah and Valley Beth Shalom, which has been at the forefront of Jewish special-needs programming for 30 years. She recently created the Artistic Jewish Spectrum, a weekly program to serve adults.
Jewish Family Service’s Haverim program, founded more than 30 years ago, continues to grow its programming, offering cooking classes, weekend trips, a restaurant club and Jewish holiday celebrations. Other synagogues throughout the city are creating programming and working to make their services more welcoming to people with special needs.
Inclusion and special needs is a priority for Federation, according to President Jay Sanderson. Federation has increased its annual allocation from $280,000 in 2010 to $470,000 for 2012. Much of that goes to fund Hamercaz, a one-stop call center for families with disabled children. Jewish Family Service runs the program, which partners with 11 organizations.
Etta Israel recently received $65,000 from Federation, its first Federation grant targeted at the group homes.
“Federation is starting to play the role it should have played 20 years ago, in terms of leadership and vision,” Held said. “The vision and the message are now clear, but the amount of funding is still extremely limited — hardly enough to do anything substantial.”
Still, Held believes the solutions will come.
“It really is such a fantastic, wonderful time in the history of Jewish community and society in general, in terms of how much support there is for people with disabilities, compared to 40 years ago, or even 20 years ago,” Held said. “We’re living at a time when everyone is trying to understand, to expand, to be full of compassion and reaching out to one another. And it’s working. It’s making us a better community.”