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 serves individuals living with special needs.
We recently interviewed Michelle K. Wolf, a community member and the founder and executive director of Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust. Michelle’s son Danny is involved with Federation’s partner organization ETTA, which provides programs and services that enable those with disabilities to live fully enriched, independent, and active lives.
Danny Wolf is a fun-loving 23-year-old redhead who enjoys music, dancing, and swimming. He participates in the ETTA City Day Program, the Nes Gadol Confirmation class at Vista Del Mar, and the Miracle Project. He loves a good party and is known as “DJ Danny.”
Why are you involved with ETTA?
Our son Danny has been attending Summer@ETTA for many years and loves it, as it is the only monthlong summer day camp recreational program for teens and young adults with special needs in the Jewish community. When he completed his special education program at Fairfax High School in December of 2016, we looked around at different options for a day program, and ETTA was clearly the best match for him — from both the Jewish observance and community involvement perspectives. With the support of 1:1 aide funded by the local Regional Center, Danny is able to actively engage in volunteer and recreational activities with a group of peers, including the ETTA Café at the Westside JCC and helping with Meals on Wheels. His favorite activity is going to a kosher restaurant every Thursday for lunch.
What has been one of your favorite moments or experiences you have had this year with ETTA?
Attending the ETTA Gala with Danny was really wonderful, as he was so happy to see all of his friends from ETTA all dressed up. On his own, he started reaching out to people he didn’t know and saying hello. It was very exciting for him to see himself in the photographs and videos, and he was very proud of his artwork, which in his case, was painting a whale.
What are some things you are proud of overcoming or you are proud of your child for overcoming?
We are proud to see Danny grow and mature into a very social and independent adult, and when he recently went off to Israel as part of a Camp Ramah/Tikvah Birthright trip, it was really breathtaking to see him fly off from LAX with an aide and a group of other young adults. He really enjoyed his time in Israel, and the photographs from his visit to the Kotel were especially moving.
What is something you wish you could change about how others perceive individuals with special needs?
I wish that people would pity less and include more. Because of Danny’s mobility challenges and small stature, there is a tendency for people to feel a sense of pity and sadness, but Danny is all about having fun, listening to music, and dancing.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles provides those with special needs 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 The Jewish Federation of Greater 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.