With the recent introduction of Maryland ABLE savings accounts, which allow families of individuals with disabilities to set aside funds to help their children live independent lives, Jane Rossheim knows how important the program could be to the community.
After all, Rossheim has a son with autism.
“As a parent, the ABLE accounts enable you to save money so your child with a disability can have a better life,” says Rossheim, who is the special needs coordinator at the JCC and oversees Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance (BJAA), a resource for individuals with disabilities and their families.
Rossheim sees these accounts as vital to the future for those with disabilities. That’s why BJAA, comprised of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, CHAI, Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE), SHEMESH, Jewish Community Services (JCS), JCC, and VSP, a department of Sinai Hospital, is sponsoring two programs with Maryland ABLE on February 20 and 27.
That program is one of many offered by The Associated and its agencies this February for Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month.
Additional programs can be found at baltimore.jewishabilities.org.
In 2010, when The Associated commissioned its community study, it discovered a growing number of Jewish households seeking assistance for a physical, developmental or learning disability. As a result, the nonprofit made a concerted effort to develop and support programs that help those with disabilities be successful.
The Associated’s SHEMESH and CJE provide educational support to help those with learning differences. And the BJAA provides comprehensive resources so individuals with disabilities and their families can navigate community services.
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five Americans lives with a disability. With this in mind, in the next few months The Associated will launch a committee to survey current community services for people with disabilities and assess them at a macro level.
“It’s important to have an inclusive community so that everyone may have the opportunity to be a fully-participating, active member and feel like they have something to contribute,” says Howard Feldman, co-chair of The Associated’s Caring Commission.
One program helping teens and young adults with disabilities transition to adulthood is the JCC’s KLAL (Keep Living and Learning), a summer experience for 14 to 26 year olds. It combines traditional summer activities, like swimming and fitness, with job readiness support and vocational training.
One highlight is the program’s signature café, open one day a week. Participants plan menus, cook, serve and decorate their “restaurant” while JCC members and staff enjoy $4 meals.
“We’ve been successful in identifying participants’ strengths which their families may not have known they have,” says Rossheim.
“For example, one young man who cooked at the café is incredibly meticulous and would be great at a detail-oriented job.”
“By interacting with one another and the community, they learn vital socialization skills. I’ve seen incredible growth over the session from these participants,” adds Sara Rubinstein, the JCC’s special needs program director.