Raising someone with special needs isn’t always easy. The reality is, for parents, it can be a journey filled with tough choices, waves of emotion and a constant search for needed information and services. It’s a challenging road to travel. Which is why, as a professional in the special needs field, it’s rewarding to help them pave a new path toward resolution and success.
For more than 30 years, Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center’s Special Needs Center has provided the community with, I believe, exceptional services for those with special needs. The programs, which focus on everything from developing social and communication skills, to hands-on activities from sports to the arts, assist children, teens and young adults reach their full potential.
Their smiles, their friendships and their special, individual successes are proof of that.
What is amazing to me is that this summer will be my 20 year anniversary working in the Special Needs Center at the JCC. I began my career in the summer of 1996 as a counselor at Camp Kehilla, the JCC’s summer day camp for children with special needs. I instantly fell in love with this program, the participants and the work.
Over the years, I have worked in, supervised or assisted in the implementation of amazing programs we offer our members, particularly those on the autism spectrum. I say amazing because of the number of individuals who have grown, flourished and successfully moved to the next stages of their lives. Many of whom were my first campers during that summer of 1996.
For many, the JCC represents their home away from home. I look at the photo album I created from my first summer at camp and see the faces of young children who are now adults and are thriving in the adult programs we offer and outside of our JCC. I, along with their families, consider these programs lifelines — from after-school respite services, weekend socialization programs, camp and vocational training and employment placement. I have heard from many families that they are not sure what they would have done without these programs. Neither am I.
I have experienced friendships that have lasted 10 plus years, individuals who met in our programs as children and still see each other weekly in our adult programs or who get together outside of the JCC. The connections among these individuals will last a lifetime.
A few weeks ago, I sat in a TGI Friday’s restaurant with one of my first campers, who has autism, treating her to lunch and catching up on where she is in her adult life. She’s living in her own apartment, working and participating in many social activities.
I would like to think that maybe the JCC had something to do with her success. That, maybe, the countless number of special needs staff here who dedicate their lives to working with this population had something to do with her success, and the success of others who called, and still call, our JCC home.
But I do know one thing: even after 20 years, it’s still rewarding to help those who come through our doors pave a new path, one day at a time.