Philadelphia’s Jewish community will soon offer even more brotherly love to those with intellectual disabilities.
Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence (JCHAI) and Jewish Learning Venture (JLV) received $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, from a joint venture between the Genesis Prize Foundation and Jewish Funders Network.
The Genesis Prize Foundation awards $1 million each year to an individual who has excelled in his or her professional field and supported the Jewish community. Musician Itzhak Perlman won the honor in 2016 and opted to donate the money to charities that share Jewish life with those with disabilities. Before selecting recipients, he tripled the total to $3.17 million through a grant-matching campaign with Jewish Funders Network.
JCHAI was among 22 organizations nationwide announced June 11 as grant winners. The Bryn Mawr-based organization operates three area group homes for adults with special needs, along with a cluster of apartments and programs for young adults.
Although adults of all religions participate in JCHAI programs, the organization emphasizes Jewish values, serves kosher foods and holds weekly Shabbat dinners and services in its residences.
The grant money will be used to expand JCHAI Transitions, a program for young adults ages 18 to 28 to build life skills before they live independently, either in a JCHAI home or on their own.
“Any 22-year-old is nervous to move out,” JCHAI Executive Director Stacy Levitan explained. The anxiety is heightened for young adults and their parents when an intellectual or developmental disability is involved.
JCHAI’s transition program provides an intermediary step before leaving parents’ homes. Through evening classes like cooking and resume building, young adults learn key life skills. With frequent club activities and field trips, JCHAI also provides a social network that stays with participants beyond classroom hours.
“The trips allow the skills to be put into play,” Levitan said, describing how, after taking a money management class, students visited a museum and implemented their new skills. “They had to decide how much to spend on lunch [and evaluate if] they had enough left for a souvenir,” Levitan said.
The program has a long waitlist, and she said the grant will allow the hiring of new staff to expand enrollment.
JLV, which promotes Jewish education in the region, received recognition for its Whole Community Inclusion initiative. The program offers sensory-friendly playdates for young families and trains synagogues in welcoming those with disabilities into Jewish events and traditions.
The organization received $25,000, which was matched by the local Stein Family Foundation.
For Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, director of Whole Community Inclusion at JLV, the award strikes a personal chord.
“My son has autism,” she said, noting that “people with disabilities can be invisible. The award is important because, as a Jew, [including people with disabilities is] living our values.”
She referenced the biblical notion of “seeing each person as holy” as a core guidance for JLV’s work.
“The goal is to move through the fear, the initial discomfort, to see more deeply,” she said.
The grant money will allow JLV to expand its goal, continuing progress in educating religious leaders and providing for families.
“One in five people has some kind of disability,” she said. “Right now, we’re only touching half of synagogue staff. The goal is to reach everyone.”