Unemployment has been at an all-time high during the pandemic. Many of those impacted include people with disabilities, like Jordyn Dannenbaum.
Dannenbaum, who has Down syndrome, had to resign from her job in a nursing home due to safety concerns related to COVID-19, and left her second job when the office closed down around the same time. Fortunately, Dannenbaum has Judith Creed Horizons for Achieving Independence, an organization that serves people with disabilities by providing them with transitional housing, socialization opportunities, life skills training and more.
“Some clients lost their jobs, our in-person programs went virtual, getting groceries delivered to people in apartments became impossible, because those platforms were inundated by the general population. Plus, the cost of food skyrocketed,” said Stacy Levitan, JCHAI’s executive director. “Locating PPE was a nightmare, and since many of our clients who kept their jobs were essential workers, we also had to worry about keeping our staff safe.”
A few weeks into the pandemic, JCHAI received close to $50,000 from the Jewish Federation’s Emergency Relief Fund. Those dollars offset the increasing price of food and supported programs through their transition to virtual platforms. JCHAI also received PPE, including clear masks for those with hearing impairments to read lips and those on the autism spectrum to better interpret social cues relayed through facial expressions.
“During those early days, we had so many problems competing for our attention and fundraising was difficult for individual agencies,” Levitan said. “The Jewish Federation has become very sophisticated when it comes to figuring out where to direct dollars on an emergency basis, and they do a really good job working closely with those of us in the community to shepherd funding where it’s needed most.”
In the earliest days of the pandemic, JCHAI received a toilet paper donation from the Jewish Federation — a precious commodity at the time. Levitan and her staff also participated in webinars with health experts, hosted by Jewish Federations of North America and the local Jewish Federation, and relied on the Jewish Federation to guide them through emergency loan applications.
When Levitan reflects on 2020, she speaks of JCHAI clients who have worked through the pandemic. Many are essential workers, employed by grocery stores, hospitals, schools and other businesses.
“It’s been really heartening to see that people with disabilities have been just as integral to keeping our communities going as any other essential worker,” said Levitan, beaming with pride.
Cristy Hollin, whose son Matthew has Fragile X syndrome and is a JCHAI client, could not agree more. Matthew works in the linen room at Lankenau Medical Center and has remained employed throughout the pandemic.
“We’re just beyond proud of how he’s handled the pandemic,” said Hollin, who is the co-chair of the Jewish Federation’s Committee for Social Responsibility. “We hope he continues to maintain a full-time job and keeps learning and growing and building friendships because that’s just as good as it gets.”
While the pandemic has added another layer of difficulty on a population that already faces countless challenges, the JCHAI community takes comfort knowing that the Jewish Federation is there for them. JCHAI continued to feel that support from a recent grant of $100,000 through the Jewish Federation’s health and human services initiative with JFNA.
“Psychologically, it’s just wonderful knowing we’re not alone,” Levitan said. “We have those who support us, like the Jewish Federation. The reality is no matter how tough it gets, we never have to go through it by ourselves.”