JF&CS Models Inclusion

February 01, 2024

JF&CS Models Inclusion

February is nationally recognized as Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion month (JDAIM). It’s a month with special meaning to us at JF&CS, where we work year-round to empower our clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to live as fully and independently as possible.

“When it comes to inclusion, there is a social construct that if we don’t see someone, we don’t have to think about them,” said Abby Frantz. Abby is the Community Access Group (CAG) Program Manager and is dedicated to her work with our IDD clients in the IndependenceWORKS (IW) building. “I do think that, as a society, we are growing when it comes to inclusion, but there is still the challenge of people simply not knowing where to start.”

Getting Comfortable

Abby was introduced to the IDD community through her mother, who spent her career working in special education while also running a summer camp for kids with IDD. Growing up, Abby was around people with IDD regularly; she helped with her mom’s camp and volunteered with her fellow high school students who were disabled. Her career at JF&CS started nine years ago as a Direct Support Professional (DSP).

Abby knows that for those who have not had similar experiences, there can be apprehension and confusion. Pushing through that discomfort is so important, because spending time together benefits those with and those without disabilities, she added.

Leading by Example

“I think most people are trying their best, they just don’t always have a leader or an influence to look towards on how to act in these situations, and how to support the community,” said Abby. “I’m truly blown away by the efforts I see here at JF&CS,” she continued. “I’ve seen our employees become close with the clients, approaching them with curiosity and be welcoming. There are people who are open-minded, and maybe they don’t have the capacity to become a leader in disability activism right now, but have the interest and are planting seeds. Having a CEO who is such a champion of disability services is so inspiring, too. Terri (Bonoff) shows up to our events, makes connections with the clients, and even brings treats — it’s wonderful to be led by her.”

At JF&CS, we regularly work to model inclusion with fun events that bring our staff, clients and community together. While our work is rooted in tradition, we are always evolving, and this year we’ve made some changes to an annual event and updated another that will continue to grow.

Kugel Conversations

Five years ago, Abby began what was then known as the Kugel Cook-off in celebration of JDAIM. JF&CS employees brought in all types of kugels to sample and share, and our IDD clients judged the entries and declared a single winner.

“Maybe it’s my millennial nature showing, but I want everyone to get a trophy for participating in the Kugel Cookoff, not just one person,” said Abby. “It’s so moving to see so many of my colleagues participating and having fun together.”

“Particularly in light of what’s happening in Israel, I really wanted to foster a sense of community and collaboration this year,” she added. “Evolving the event from a ‘cook-off’ with a winner to a ‘conversation’ where everyone enjoys fellowship and kugel, it just felt right.”

This year’s event for staff and IDD clients will take place February 29.

The Evolution of the JF&CS Superstar Choir

Last year, the team put together its first holiday choir, sparked by an idea from one of our DSPs, Abigail Carter. Abigail directed the choir, the staff helped with music, and the team did what they could with the small budget they had.

This year, the choir got an upgrade when Abby was contacted by Cherie Aviv. Cherie is well-known at JF&CS as an enthusiastic volunteer and ardent supporter of several of our programs. When Cherie inquired about how she could support the CAG program, Abby mentioned that she could sponsor the choir.

“I didn’t know Cherie well at the time, so I had no idea what a go-getter she is,” said Abby. “She went so far above and beyond a generous financial contribution. Cherie became the choir manager and found us two lovely volunteers, Carol and Michelle, who worked with us for months to direct the choir and put the set together. Everything was high quality, from the robes and backdrop, the professional headshots for the clients, pianist, videographer; she really was all-in for the event.”

“I was inspired to create this choir because music unites us all,” said Cherie. “Choir members, JF&CS staff, and community volunteers came together as one, with one voice to create a most wonderful magical performance.”

The performance took place in January and included staff members who sang and assisted with the production.

“When the family members watched their adult children perform, the room was filled with pride, smiles, tears, and joy,” said Cherie. “Bringing that euphoria to the choir members and their family makes each day joyful and meaningful.”

“There were so many warm moments, and it was a really nice event to be able to provide to the employees here at JF&CS, too,” said Abby.

The Future for the Choir

At a minimum, the JF&CS Superstar Choir plans to host an annual performance around the holidays. There’s also talk about taking the choir ‘on the road.’

“Cherie interviewed one of our clients,” said Abby, “and she asked what the client wanted to do next. The client said, ‘I think we should sing to old people, because old people can’t always leave their houses.’ I saw the light bulb and excitement go off in Cherie’s mind in that moment.”

While we wait to see what’s next for the JF&CS Superstar Choir, Abby emphasizes that “we are always interested in learning new things and meeting new volunteers. If you’re a good cook, if you like to ride a unicycle or juggle, if you can cross-stitch; get in touch,” said Abby. “We are always looking to connect talented volunteers with our clients at IW to host activities.”

“The choir grew out of an activity,” she adds. “Who knows what else could grow?”

To get more information about volunteering with the Community Access Group at IndependenceWORKS, click here.