Jewish Disability Awareness Month shines light on the work of local Jewish agencies

From physical disabilities that impair mobility, to behavioral issues related to attention difficulties and developmental disorders like autism, each disability presents its own set of challenges unique to individuals and their families. At JF&CS, we work with families by providing information and referral services, counseling and support groups, advocacy, community outreach programming and more. We are committed to ensuring that children, teens and adults with special needs receive access to all benefits, services and programs to which they are entitled.

This February marks Pittsburgh’s sixth Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), part of an annual nation-wide campaign dedicated to raising awareness and fostering inclusion of individuals with disabilities in all facets of Jewish life. Jewish agencies, organizations and congregations use this month to break down barriers, educate communities on accessibility and inclusion and reach out to Jewish individuals with disabilities and their families.

Pittsburgh-area Jewish agencies and organizations, including JF&CS, the Agency for Jewish Learning (AJL), Friendship Circle, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the Jewish Community Center (JCC) and Jewish Residential Services (JRS) and many others work on a local level to provide ongoing programs, services and support addressing the needs, strengths, opportunities and challenges of people with disabilities in our communities.

As part of those ongoing efforts for people with disabilities and their families, AIM, a collaboration of JF&CS and JRS which provides support for families of individuals with special needs, will hold the upcoming presentation, “Housing options for individuals with disabilities.” The presentation will be held on Tuesday, March 4, from 6-8 p.m. at JRS offices, located at Rodef Shalom, 4905 Fifth Avenue.

The program will include brief presentations with local disability housing advocates: Deborah Friedman, Executive Director of Jewish Residential Services, will speak about current residential programs and plans for housing in Squirrel Hill; Mary Hartley, a consultant for the United Way of Allegheny County’s 21andAble Initiative, will discuss innovative housing models for adults with disabilities; Elliot Frank, President, Autism Housing Development Corporation of Pittsburgh (AHDCP), will discuss The Heidelberg Apartment project, which aims to cohabitate autism spectrum adults and neuro-typical adults; Robert Garber, attorney, landlord, statutory employer, court-appointed co-guardian, and family member of an individual with special needs will discuss privately arranging residential services for a family member with special needs; and Nancy Murray, President of the ARC of Greater Pittsburgh and ACHIEVA, will speak about ACHIEVA’s “A Home of My Own” program, which seeks to blend a family’s private resources with government funding and natural supports to enable people with disabilities to live as safely and independently as possible in a home of their choice.

“Housing is a key issue in our community for individuals with disabilities and their families. We hope families will come away from this presentation with a concrete sense of the current housing options that exist in our community, as well as information on new and unconventional ways to provide safe housing for loved ones,” said Linda Marino, resource coordinator at JF&CS. “Above all, we aim to provide a feeling of hopefulness and empowerment and arm family members with practical strategies to help their loved ones transition to independence in a community setting.”

The presentation is free and open to the community and includes a light kosher meal at 6 p.m. Registration is required. For more information or to register, contact Linda Marino at lmarino@jfcspgh.org or 412-422-7200 or Jenny Wolsk Bain at jwolskbain@jrspgh.org or 412-325-0039.

Additionally, Squirrel Hill Psychological Services (SHPS) and Quest Therapeutic Camps provide a unique summer therapeutic day camp program designed for children ages 6 – 18 with diagnoses including attention deficit disorder, chronic anxiety, chronic depression and high-functioning Autism (previously labeled Asperger’s syndrome).

Quest Camp offers campers a highly-structured and therapeutic curriculum with the look and feel of a typical summer camp. Daytime activities include swimming, field trips, sports, and drama, music and science classes, while following a cognitive-behavioral approach designed to teach skills and reinforce positive changes in behavior. The camp offers an opportunity for children to learn, grow and increase confidence within a day camp setting. Parents have reported significant improvement in areas that include self-esteem, cooperation, family relationships and conversational skills as well as overall improvement in social and emotional functioning.

Quest Camp will run June 23 – August 8, and will be held at Community Day School in Squirrel Hill. For more information about the Quest Therapeutic Camp program, or to register for the Pittsburgh camp, visit Quest Therapeutic Camps online at www.questcamps.com or call 800-313-9733. For additional information related to the Pittsburgh program, please contact April Artz, Director for Quest Therapeutic Camp/Afterschool, at 412-521-3800 or aartz@squirrelhillpsych.org. To learn more about the work of SHPS, please visit www.squirrelhillpsych.org.

At JF&CS, our goal is to advance the quality of life, dignity, equality and freedom of choice of people with disabilities through ongoing advocacy, community education, counseling, support groups and extensive information and referral services. Jewish Disability Awareness Month is a special time of recognition and commitment to the inclusion of individuals with disabilities and gives us an opportunity to shine a light on the ongoing work of JF&CS and our partners to ensure those with disabilities and special needs are provided with support and practical help from infancy through adulthood, every day of the year.

If you are seeking information, resources, services or support for yourself or a loved one, please contact Linda Marino at JF&CS at 412-422-7200 or by email at lmarino@jfcspgh.org or visit our website at www.jfcspgh.org to find out how we can help.

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