The Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center will soon be employing adults with disabilities with the help of a $35K grant to continue its mission of supporting individuals with special needs and bridging their unemployment gap.
The JCC’s Vocational Life Skills Training Center is a year-round, day habilitation program that provides adults 21 and older with special needs vocational training, educational workshops, life skills training and socialization opportunities.
The center’s day habilitation program caters to about 35 participants and the whole center provides for about 50 individuals.
Individuals with special needs can attend high school until they are 21 years old, so the center continues education and support for individuals when they age out of local schools.
Heather Schulz, the director of the Vocational Life Skills Training Center, said the purpose of the center is to assist individuals’ in their quest for independence.
Schulz said the center received a $35k grant from the UJA-Federation which will go towards paid jobs at the JCC for program participants. Individuals would be earning $16 an hour.
“Our hope is that it will motivate some individuals to work towards a paid job right here and then open up other opportunities,” Schulz said.
This grant will allow for the JCC cafe to be open for extended hours and provide paid job opportunities at the cafe for individuals with disabilities.
Reconstruction is planned for the JCC’s cafe, which has not started yet but is projected to be done by mid-September. Once this is completed, the paid job opportunities will start.
While center members are encouraged to apply for these jobs in the future, she said the job postings are open to anyone in the community with a disability.
Schulz said the grant is crucial in creating employment opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities.
In tandem with the center’s future paid job opportunities, it also offers unpaid internships for center participants to learn vocational skills.
Program Without Walls provides internships at the Sid Jacobson JCC as well as local businesses like Abeetza Pizza, Heritage Farm and Gardens, Holiday Farms and Preen Pets.
Internships at the JCC include working at the Gezunter Cafe, Community Needs Bank, maintenance and clerical assignments.
“So we support all of the departments here,” Schulz said.
The center also runs the Birthday and Anniversaries Committee, which is in charge of mailing cards to JCC members for their birthdays and anniversaries. She said not only is the work experience beneficial, but it is also a great way for participants to get to know their fellow community and JCC members.
“Our interns really take pride in their work,” Schulz said. “It gives them meaning – they know they are helping others which is really important.”
Program intern Nora, who works at the JCC cafe, said her favorite part is helping customers and taking inventory. She has been interning with the program for about two years.
The goal of the Program Without Walls is to set individuals up for employment by offering them transferable work skills.
She said the work experiences that participants gain through Program Without Walls are “stepping stones” to being hired for a job in the community.
Individuals are assigned internship jobs based on their individual needs, skills and readiness. She said the center continually assesses its participants’ growth and satisfaction with the program’s offerings, tailoring their assignments based on this assessment.
The program runs Monday-Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and has been offered at the JCC for about three years.
In conjunction with work experiences, the center also offers weekly social programs for individuals. This includes Social Club, which fosters conversations among peers with recreational activities, as well as informational sessions to assist participants in expanding their social and life skills like self-advocacy, making friends, cooking, resume writing and job searching.
“They’re just happy to be connecting with others, helping others and socializing,” Schulz said. “Having friends in a program is such a big part of growth for this population too.”
Social programs are held Monday-Friday from 2:30-5:30 p.m. and once or twice a month on weekends.
She said the program’s offering of a combination of vocational training and life skills training is important for participants.
“And the reason for that is we realize that those two skill sets are what can help to set someone up for independence,” Schulz said.
Schulz said she has helped re-envision the program to expand the services the center offers to adults with special needs.
She said the JCC had historically offered support for individuals with special needs, starting with school-aged children and after-school programs, but realized there is a need to support adults with special needs as well.
“With that identifying that everybody has different strengths and abilities and how can we tap into their potential, whatever variation of that potential might be,” Schulz said.
She said this year the program has seen great growth through more internship job sites in the community and expanding the center overall to provide for more individuals.
Schulz said the goal of the center is to further educate people about individuals with special needs, to foster understanding, compassion and patience. She said she has big dreams, as she would like to help more individuals and increase the number of vocational job sites for participants.
Schulz said the individuals at the Vocational Life Skills Training Center are an integral aspect of the JCC.
“People like deep down to help others and it’s a good feeling when they see the JCC is such a meaningful part of our interns’ and participants’ lives,” Schulz said.