In a continuing effort to welcome people with disabilities into the Jewish community, the Jewish Federations of North America this year hired nine interns with disabilities and one fellow through an initiative funded by the Ruderman Family Foundation.
Young people with disabilities have been working for a minimum of 16 weeks at five Jewish federations including The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and UJA- Federation of New York. In addition, Rachel Bass has been working since September as a fellow in JFNA’s Washington, D.C., office.
Bass graduated Gallaudet University in the District with a degree in psychology and has been working on several projects for JFNA, including ones that promote policies to enable those with disabilities to have access to the services and supports they need. She also is involved in projects concerning family caregiving and senior citizen transportation, she said.
“Basically I do research, type documents and learn about policies relating to these issues,” she said through an interpreter. Bass is hearing impaired and has weakness in her limbs that make it difficult to get around and for her speech to be understood.
“I was basically like this my whole life,” she said at her office in JFNA, where she works 20 hours a week. She also attends graduate school full time at Gallaudet, with a major in social work.
Working at JFNA has been a great experience for the 24-year-old. “Really overall, it’s been an amazing experience. It’s been very inspiring,” Bass said. Besides enjoying her work, Bass sees her position as “my way to show the community that people with disabilities can be involved, that people with disabilities can work.”
When not working or studying, Bass “absolutely loves playing the piano. I also ski. I am involved with the Special Olympics with skiing. I’ve already been to Ireland with that,” she said, adding, “Basically, I don’t let my disabilities stop me.”
Kira Borman, project coordinator of the Ruderman Family Foundation Opportunities Initiative, explained that this pilot program is over at the end of this year, and no decision has been made on whether it will continue. However, she said, some of the eight interns are still employed although their original internship has expired, she said.
The program “has had such a positive impact” both on the individuals working at the various federations and for the federations themselves, Borman said.
When announcing the program’s launch, Jerry Silverman, president and CEO at JFNA, said, “Our core Jewish values compel us to further embrace and include people with disabilities in our community.”
During the announcement of the program’s launch, Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Foundation, said, “By making people with disabilities more visible, we will raise awareness of the importance of inclusion, thus strengthening the Jewish community and benefiting us all.”
The five federations were chosen from a field of 16 agencies that are represented on JFNA’s human services and public policy disability committee.