February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month

by | Feb 22, 2016 | Other News

Alan and Dolores Bartell receive the Joseph H. “Buddy” Strelitz Memorial Award for Distinguished Community Service from Bobby Copeland.

Alan and Dolores Bartell receive the Joseph H. “Buddy” Strelitz Memorial Award for Distinguished Community Service from Bobby Copeland.

From 2009 until 2015, February was known throughout Jewish communities as Jewish Disability Awareness Month.

This year, there’s a new name and a more encompassing vision: February is now Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM).

Established by the Jewish Special Education International Consortium, JDAIM is a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide. Its goal is to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities and those who love them.

Michelle Fenley, Maryann Kettyle, and Michelle Walter like the name change, and are working to make disability awareness and inclusion part of the consciousness of the Tidewater Jewish community—every day of the year.

The three work as a team at Jewish Family Service of Tidewater, providing services, support, and programs for people with special needs.

“People with disabilities deserve to be part of this community, too,” says Walter, a licensed clinical social worker who has been with JFS for 23 years.

There is so much to be gained—all around—from inclusive activities, she says, whether at synagogues, Jewish gatherings, or in the general community.

JFS has two programs exclusively for Jewish adults. The Chaverim (friends) group supports people with developmental disabilities. The Simcha (joy) group assists people with chronic mental illness. Both groups hold social, recreational, and religious gatherings several times each month.

Activities include celebrating Jewish holidays with one another and within the greater community, such as an upcoming Purim party with the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) group at Ohef Sholom Temple.

The groups also go on outings together. Popular trips are to Norfolk Tides baseball games, bowling with the Young Adult Division of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, or an upcoming ladies-only tea at an area restaurant.

“Our groups serve a lot of purposes, including being out in the community and being seen by the community” says Fenley, a licensed clinical social worker and 18-year-JFS-employee.

“They also give us a chance to be with these individuals monthly, and to have an informal way to assess that their needs are being met—on top of the fact that we have a lot of fun together.”

JFS’ Jewish clients with disabilities range from 18-years-old and up. They may live at home, independently, or in area group homes.

“For some, the other members of the group are their only friends. And if it weren’t for these programs, many of our clients wouldn’t have any Jewish life or any Jewish connections” says Kettyle, JFS special needs case manager. “They might not get out at all.”

Participation in the JFS groups is provided at no charge to the clients with one caregiver. Transportation is provided. The programs are fully funded by endowments and allocations made possible through contributions to the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Annual Campaign.

“It is so important that our Jewish family, friends and neighbors with disabilities in Tidewater have the same opportunities as all members of the Tidewater Jewish community,” says Betty Ann Levin, JFS executive director. “Our Jewish traditions and values teach that each of us is created in God’s image and each of us is to be valued.

“We are so pleased to play a small role in this awareness and inclusion and so appreciative of what our Federation and our community continues to do to support us in this work.”

Two longtime supporters are Dolores and Alan Bartel. Inclusion in the Jewish and general community for people with disabilities is important to them—for their son Craig, who is autistic and deaf, and for all others as well.

For decades, the Bartels have worked tirelessly as advocates, spokespeople, and activists to ensure services are available for people with disabilities. At the 2015 UJFT Biennial, the Bartels were recognized for their efforts as recipients of the Joseph H. ‘Buddy” Strelitz Memorial Award for Distinguished Community Service.

“Our family, including our mother and dad and our son Gary, have found that supporting these kinds of efforts helps a lot of people—not just Craig, and not just those with disabilities,” says Alan Bartel. “It’s expanded the view of our grandchildren, and so many others, who realize that everyone plays an important part in our lives and our community.”

Craig Bartel participates in the Chaverim group, and enjoys the social interaction, Jewish holiday celebrations, and the annual party the groups have, his father says.

“But there’s still a lot more to be done,” says Alan.

More programs of interest:
• Inclusion program for Jewish children with special needs at Ohef Sholom Temple. Open the Gates began in 2012 with the support of a UJFT synagogue grant. It is held during Religious School.
• Inclusive program for children with special needs at the Simon Family JCC’s summer camp. The Shadow Camper program is open to Jewish and non-Jewish campers, and allows them to participate fully in all camp activities. The JFS Special Needs team coordinates and facilitates the program.
• The Tidewater Jewish community supports awareness, inclusivity, skills training, and a social network for people with disabilities in Israel, through its allocations to the Center for Independent Living in Tel Aviv.

Find out more about JFS’ Special Needs programs at www.jfshamptonroads.org or call 757-459-4640. Read a recent article about Ohef Sholom Temple’s Open the Gates program in the January 11 issue, www.JewishNewsVA.org, and call the temple at 757-625-4295.

Jewish Family Service of Tidewater and the Simon Family JCC are constituent agencies of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater. Gifts made to the 2016 UJFT Annual Campaign provide allocations for these agencies, special grant funding for area synagogues, financial support for the CIL in Tel Aviv, and much more. To contribute and find out more, visit www.JewishVA.org.

by Laine M. Rutherford