Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
In the field of social work, there’s a core concept of “starting where the client is at” meaning that the therapist or social worker needs to begin working with the client without pre-judging the situation, and not moving too far ahead of the client’s needs. So, for example, if the client is the mom of a newly-diagnosed 6 year-old with autism, it is probably not the right time to bring up where that child should live when an adult.
In a larger sense, the Ruderman Family Foundation is applying this same principle at their upcoming ADVANCE Conference May 8th in New York City. This 3rd annual conference is a gathering of leading Jewish philanthropists from North America, Israel and Europe who are dedicated to making charitable giving and grant making more inclusive for people with disabilities.
Co-sponsored by the Jewish Funders Network (JFN), The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston (their Federation), the conference is highlighting state of the art funding practices while also looking at the various needs of people with disabilities over their lifetimes.
Ephraim Gopin, Communications Director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, told me that one key strategy is to encourage funders to add special needs inclusion funding to the programs they currently support. With overall disability rates approaching 20% of the U.S. population, excluding children, teens and adults with disabilities (often along with their parents and siblings) means leaving behind a significant portion of the Jewish community.
Under the leadership of Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, the ADVANCE conference has become a tangible reminder that our community’s leadership is finally acknowledging the growing numbers of Jews in North America and Israel with special needs, and is actively working to coordinate funding efforts. Unfortunately, the previous ADVANCE conferences have had few funders come from the west coast, a problem that I hope will be improved soon.
One very cool Los Angeles connection with this year’s conference is that ADVANCE conference participants will be invited to attend an evening performance of East Side Glory, a new production of the award-winning Miracle Project at the 92nd Street Y. The Miracle Project was started right here in Los Angeles by Elaine Hall, a good friend, and Mom of a teen with autism, and is now part of the Vista Inspire Project at Vista Del Mar. You can see the LA shows on May 5, 6 and 7th and purchase tickets here.The Miracle Project was the subject of the Emmy-winning documentary, Autism: The Musical.
In New York, as in Los Angeles, the show was written and will be performed by teens and young adults with autism and special needs, as well as their typical siblings and peers. Invariably, someone in the audience will say, “I can’t really tell who has special needs and who doesn’t". Now that, my friends, is truly a great place to start the communal conversation.
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April 16, 2013 | 10:39 pm
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
Long before I was married and had kids, I always imagined I’d be spending some quality time watching my children participate in some type of group sporting activity. Not that I had ever played organized sports as a kid-- there weren’t a lot of options for girls growing up then and I was pretty klutzy to being with—but it seemed like such a wholesome, warm-fuzzy type of family activity, complete with a pizza party for the team even if they lost.
As it turned out, our daughter had no interest in organized sports, and although she did play soccer one year at the Jewish middle school she attended (my joke was “bend it like Bracha”), the whole endeavor fell apart early on, and she went on to acting and theater activities.
And for Danny, our son with physical impairments, just getting around with his walker or having fun in the pool splashing around were big achievements. I heard about the Challenger division of Little League for kids with special needs, but couldn’t find one close to us, and all the Special Olympics programs seemed to take place during Shabbat.
Then, last fall, we were invited to join an inaugural AYSO soccer program in Beverly Hills for kids with special needs called the VIP program, started by two fathers who had wanted to get this program going for years. We even got to select Danny’s own number, and naturally, he picked “18” or chai. The volunteers and coaches figured out creative ways to get Danny to move across the field while he held on to his walker and kicked at the same time, although he did sit down for frequent breaks to play “hot potato” with the ball.
This week, the Friendship Circle of Angeles started a boys basketball program, and I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a good fit. But with gentle assistance from two amazing teenage volunteers, along with the coach and Rabbi Michy Rav-Noy, Danny participated, mostly from the sidelines. When the coach gave Danny the ball to make a pass, and everyone cheered him on, chanting “Danny, Danny”, his smile had no end. He came home very excited and kept saying, "baketball, baketball".
So I felt a strong connection to a family in Israel today when I read that Elad Gevandschnaider from Beersheva, a 24-year-old man with Down syndrome whom I had blogged about previously, was the recipient of the Award of Excellence from the IDF, Israel’s Defense Force, as part of Israel’s 65th anniversary. Elad has also been an active player at the Israel Tennis Center in Beersheva, and has won multiple Special Olympic medals around the world.
As the Israel Tennis Center press release says:
“Emotions ran high during the 65th IDF anniversary event, as the overflow crowd applauded for all of the award recipients, saving its loudest cheering for their very special soldier with Down’s Syndrome, Elad. The thunderous ovation did not stop until the Brigade Commander walked over to personally congratulate Elad for his achievement.”
Although people with developmental disabilities are exempt from army service, Elad volunteered and worked at an Israeli army equipment base. His family credits the Israel Tennis Center for helping Elad develop discipline, confidence and learning how to be more independent.
April 2, 2013 | 11:59 pm
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
I have a very vivid memory of being back in 6th grade at the local elementary school in north Orange County, watching a film based on futurist Alvin Toffler’s best-selling 1970 book, Future Shock, which predicted a cyber-filled future with people feeling disoriented from, in his words, “ too much change in too short a period of time".
The most memorable scene was one in which two men were depicted getting married to each other. The howls and screams of “ICK” hung heavily in the classroom and I think the teacher had to momentarily stop the film and tell us to quiet down.
Flash forward to last week when our 18-year-old with developmental disabilities decided to watch the animated Disney version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in which the high-spirited gypsy Esmeralda is the only one in the nasty Paris crowd during the Feast of Fools who steps in to help Quasimodo, the deformed hunchback and bell-ringer of Notre Dame. She tells the evil Frollo, that she feels empathy toward Quasimodo because as a gypsy, her people have also been shunned by the larger society. Not my favorite Disney movie by a big margin, but it got me thinking.
As Jews, we are keenly aware of the terrible virus of anti-Semitism that spread from our people’s earliest encounters with the Greeks, then early Christians and then to the Muslims, racial anti-Semitism and of course reaching its nadir with the Nazis (who also targeted homosexuals, gypsies and the disabled for extermination).
Because of this unfortunate historical legacy, we have a special obligation to speak out publicly for those at the margins of society, who just want the same rights as anyone else, including of course the right to fall in love and get married. Having two adults legally loving each other is not something to be scared of, no more than having people with severe disabilities living in the community.
Before the American Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, business could legally discriminate against people with disabilities, and physical access kept people with physical disabilities out of many museums, airports, and workplaces. This one piece of legislation literally changed the environment for millions of Americans, and we are all the better for it. Ending marriage inequality for same-sex couples will have the same long-term positive impact, but we need to stop saying “ick” and let everyone say “I Do” instead.