New JF&CS program helps Jews with disabilities

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

A new program for people with disabilities has been launched by Jewish Family & Children’s Service.

In March, JF&CS began its Jewish Disability Care Connect program for people of all ages with physical or intellectual disabilities. 

The initiative comes in response to what JF&CS determined was a void in adequate care for local Jews with disabilities. 

For example, a 2014 Jewish Federation of St. Louis demographic study found that 10 percent of Jewish families reported that getting help for a child with a disability was “very difficult.”

The program aims to link its clients with educational and recreational opportunities, life skills training, housing support, support groups, and to provide assistance with receiving government benefits, among other services. 

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The organization will narrow its efforts as it determines the most urgent areas of need, said Elisa Garland, Jewish community disability care manager. She hopes to serve at least 55 clients in the first year. 

Garland said she sees the greatest needs among older parents who are concerned about what will happen to their adult children when the parents die, as well as among people ages 18 to 21 with disabilities who are in transition.

“If they are not going to straight into a job or any type of post-secondary education, what do they do?” asked Garland, who has spent her first few months on the job visiting organizations that help people with disabilities, such as Easterseals and St. Louis Arc, offering to provide additional support.

She connected with one woman in her 80s who is seeking help for her son. He has hearing loss and physical disabilities. After Garland arranged a tour of the Jewish Community Center’s Adult Day Center, the son will participate in programming there twice a week, she said.

“That will give the mother some time to care for herself,” Garland said. 

A principal of a local Jewish day school also contacted Garland about an 18-year-old student who had suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. Garland was able to connect the student to a summer program for people with such injuries. 

Jewish Federation of St. Louis has provided an initial $70,000 grant for the program.

Garland said she started working with people with disabilities at a summer camp when she was 18 years old. She has a master’s degree in mental health counseling and recently spent eight years as a special education teacher. 

She said she was interested in the new program because it allowed her “to build something from nothing.”

“I could combine my previous experiences of working in the classroom, of working at camps, and at outdoor settings,” Garland said. “I have worked with people in so many different settings, and I felt like in this position I could help them not only with finding jobs and doing different paperwork, but also with finding recreational [opportunities] as well.”

The program is targeted at people who are Jewish or are associated with the Jewish community. If a prospective client is not Jewish, Garland said, she will not turn that person away but will connect the client to a case manager who can provide assistance.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the date of the Meet and Greet event, which takes place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 11 at JF&CS, 10950 Schuetz Road.