JCHAI: Changing Lives for Jews With Disabilities


Michael is a quiet young man in his early 20s who is a valued full-time employee at a Montgomery County assisted-living facility. On his day off, he works as a teacher’s aide in the synagogue he attends with his family. An animal lover, Michael dreams of a time in the not-too-distant future when he can live in his own apartment with a dog of his own.

JCHAI, an agency with more than 25 years of experience in helping Jewish adults with disabilities achieve their full potential, is working with Michael and his parents through the Federation-supported program known as JCHAI At Home to realize these dreams.

Michael’s parents turned to JCHAI At Home for assistance in making a life plan for their son with the goal of achieving greater independence. With the assistance of his counselor, Candy Wiater, he is learning to manage his money, use coupons while supermarket shopping, cook simple meals and be more successful at work.

Wiater is also helping Michael to break out of his shell and make friends with people of a similar age. He has joined JCHAI clients for dinners, where he played the guitar and led the singing, and has participated in agency-led trips to the Franklin Institute, an outdoor music concert and to New Hope.

In the year-and-a-half that Wiater has been working with Michael, she has seen him make enormous strides. “He keeps track of medical appointments on a personal calendar, visits doctors on his own and takes down phone messages,” she said, adding that he is particularly proud of the fact that he recently passed his driving test.

Jon, an outgoing 45-year-old, just recently “graduated” from the JCHAI program. Judith Creed, who helped found the agency in 1987 and serves as board chair, explained that Jon, who has been involved with the agency for more than 14 years, feels ready to “fly solo” and she couldn’t be happier.

Creed remembers when Jon first moved into the Strauss/Actman House, one of three private group homes owned, operated and staffed by the agency in Wynnewood, Elkins Park and Northeast Philadelphia. In 2000, Jon moved into the structured, yet less-intensive JCHAI program at the Presidential Apartments in Bala Cynwyd, where her own son, Jonah, also resides.

Here, JCHAI staff supports residents in the afternoons and early evenings on weekdays and for a few hours over the weekend, helping them prepare dinner, maintain their apartments and assist with personal grooming. During the day, the residents are on their own, setting their alarm clocks, making breakfast and getting to work. They enjoy the apartment complex’s fitness center and, during summers, the outdoor pool.

Jon, who works in his family’s law firm, is very proud of the apartment that he has filled with pictures of his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. He enjoys learning about history and counts the History Channel and the Food Network among his favorite television stations, although he also admits to keeping up with the story lines of his favorite soap operas.

Every Friday night, Jon lights Shabbat candles and blesses the challah, before sitting down to dinner with his JCHAI friends. He keeps his apartment in immaculate condition and knows how to call maintenance if there’s a problem.

He says that he enjoys living in an area with excellent access to public transportation and shopping. He is fiercely independent and proud of it. “I like living in a place of my very own, just like my brother,” he says.

Janice Cooper, the agency’s executive program director, is responsible for the staff and programming for both the houses and the apartment program. She has watched Jon grow in his years with the agency and supports his decision to “graduate” from the program. “We at JCHAI stand ready to provide back-up and help when and if Jon needs us,” she says.

Creed believes that Jon’s attitude is a testament to the agency’s success “in opening the doors of independence to men and women with disabilities and helping them and their families realize that they can do much more than they initially thought they could.”

Stacy Levitan, JCHAI’s executive director, emphasizes that the agency is “much more than just group homes and apartments.” JCHAI At Home, an independent supportive living program, provides a varied menu of services to disabled adults where they live in the community. JCHAI professionals offer their expertise on a fee-for-service basis to help with such daily living activities as: supermarket shopping, cooking, navigating public transportation, banking and maintaining their own apartments.

Certified job coaches will work one on one with clients to help them develop strong job skills and work ethics. Licensed social workers offer group therapy to provide counseling and support surrounding such issues as developing friendships, dating, sexuality, coping with grief and other life challenges.

For more information about JCHAI services for adults with disabilities and their families, call Levitan at 610-667-7875 or visit: www.jchai.org.


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