By: Eileen Elias,Director of ACHaD Special Needs Department
February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, and the Katz JCC is proud to join together with Jews from all over the world in this unified effort to raise awareness and inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life. Together, we foster a more inclusive Jewish community that emphasizes, the value, dignity and capabilities of each and every individual.
As the ACHaD Director for 17 years, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to watch the amazing accomplishments of so many of our participants. I have known many of these individuals for 17 years and they have flourished and grown so much. I am so proud of all their capabilities.
The JCC’s ACHaD (Achieving Community Hope and Dreams) Department has been promoting those values through its programs, classes and special events for almost 18 years. We got our start in 1999 when we hosted the JCC Maccabi Games here in Cherry Hill and featured an inclusive component. Many of those individual who participated in the Games in 1999 are still active members in our JCC community. Our JCC Camps at Medford began formally supporting children with special needs through the Open Hearts/Open Doors program over 20 years ago with 6 individuals participating in the first year. Today, we have over 120 children and teens that are in this amazing program!
The ACHaD Department continues to offer new and exciting programs for the South Jersey community. On February 1st at 6:30 pm we are hosting a Special Needs Resource Fair with over 54 vendors. This is an opportunity for individuals and families to learn about programs and services in our community.
On February 8th at 6:30 pm, we are so excited to host our annual Art Gallery Reception that will showcase beautiful artwork created by participants by the ACHaD All About Art class, ACHaD Spirit Social Group and JFCS TOPS participants. This year our students focused on painting, weaving, fabrics, clay, paper Mache and utilized many unique materials on canvases to give life to their expression of different countries around the world! It was a delight to experience some sun, fun, learning and an undeniable creativity that displays itself in a sincere eagerness to experiment and grow artistic skills. If you can’t attend this event, stop by our Appel Art Gallery on the first floor anytime in February to view the beautiful work.
Throughout the year, we offer fun and educational programs that you can learn more about by visiting our website HERE. An inclusive community is a stronger community, and while this quest is universal, Jewish values and traditions provide teachable moments to advance inclusion. We look forward to another exciting year ahead!