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February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. As part of our Federation’s commitment to inclusion, every week this month we will feature a blog written by either a member of our community, his or her parent, or a volunteer or professional working with one of our partner organizations that serve individuals living with special needs.

We recently interviewed members of the Jewish Family Service (JFS) program “Chaverim,” a social friendship program for adults with developmental disabilities in the Los Angeles area, in both Valley and City venues. JFS{Chaverim is a program partner of The Jewish Federation that provides regular activities including weekly classes, dinner club, karaoke nights, and exercise classes as well as day trips.

JFS{Chaverim members were interviewed in small groups and asked to talk about their favorite moments and experiences with the program, why it is important for them to be a part of the Jewish community, and why advocacy is important to them. (Names have been changed for confidentiality.)

What Chaverim means to me:

Joan, 50: I knew a lot of the people before, and when I came back to Chaverim it was great to get out of the house and meet more people. It’s a lot of fun.

Sally, 58: Lasting friendships are so important. I like bringing my friends into the group.

Josh, 42: One of my favorites is bowling with Libby, it’s fun and I enjoy it. It’s good exercise.

Charlie, 33: I like the day trips that we take on Sunday — Disneyland to San Diego. It’s a long day, and we do fun things.

Ari, 40: I like dinner club because we get to socialize and meet people.

Sam, 65: I get to meet people. It’s great to have things to do with your time.

William, 25: I wish that people knew that Chaverim was a place to go with your friends and go places and have conversations and have people to talk to.

George, 31: I like being a part of Chaverim. It’s a lot of fun. I get to be with all of my friends. I learn a lot from Chaverim. I learn how to talk to all my friends and how to do stuff.

Why Judaism is important to me:

Molly, 48: There aren’t many Jewish organizations for us and I like that Chaverim is Jewish and something for us. But I also like that you don’t have to be Jewish. They have the Seder, Chanukah party, and Shabbat.

William, 25: It’s important to keep Jewish roots and do Jewish activities. A lot of people need a place to go, and now we have a place to go.

Why self-advocacy is important:

Nathaniel, 38: Self-advocacy is speaking up and telling people what you need. You’re advocating for people who need help.

William, 25: Advocacy is important so people don’t walk all over you and the government doesn’t cut back funding and vital programs to people like us that we really need. Chaverim helps us to stand up for ourselves. Gerry (the Chaverim Coordinator) could tell us who to call if we need help.

George, 31: I learn how to advocate for myself. Chaverim tells us we’re not alone and don’t have to do things on our own, and if we are overwhelmed we have people to go to.

Sally, 58: Advocacy is speaking up for yourself and or others. We’re showing we’re not so disabled and our voice matters. We do matter even though we’re disabled.

Jewish Federation Los Angeles provides those with developmental and other disabilities with greater access to quality services and programs that enhance daily living and inclusion in our community. The Los Angeles Jewish Abilities Center (LAJAC), the community resource for Jewish adults with special needs and caregivers, is an initiative of Jewish Federation Los Angeles. This strategic response to increased communal needs was launched with support from a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. We have created an accessible platform that will empower people of all abilities and all ages to access the tools and resources they need, promote collaboration, and live meaningful, purposeful, and Jewish lives. To learn more about LAJAC, visit www.lajac.org.


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