No decision about me, without me
This core statement presented by Janet Leech, the Head of Learning
Disabilities at Enfield Council in London at the conclusion of JCC
Global’s Amitim– Fellows Special Needs Seminar captures the
essence of a groundbreaking experience. Executive directors, senior
staff members and volunteers from the Mazal Tov JCC in
Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, the Shore Front Y in New York and the Eilat
Community Centers in Israel gathered in London to learn about the
services and programs provided for individuals with special needs as
part of their effort to make their own JCCs and JCCs around the
world more inclusive. Janet and the many other individuals that they
met brought home a more comprehensive approach to inclusion, a
real effort to listen to the people who receive service and ways of
realizing the great potential of people with disabilities.
It all started a year ago when the leaders of 25 JCCs from 11 countries
gathered in Budapest to launch the JCC Global Amitim– Fellows
Global Leadership Network. In a brain storming session, when they
had to choose partners and projects for future collaboration, Sue
Fox, the Executive Director of the Shorefront YM-YWHA JCC in New
York came up with a suggestion for a project. She called it:
Expanding our Beautiful Jewish Community. This was a captivating
idea for both Eilat and Zaporizhzhia and the global group was
As part of their initial mutual learning process, they found out that
the way individuals with special needs are served in their
communities is very different. Due to their particular culture,
economy, politics and judicial system, the menu and focus of service
varies. But they did find common ground. They were all looking to
better train and manage the work of volunteers who work with
individuals with special needs.
From the start, the group was fortunate to have Neil Taylor, Director
of Community Services for Jewish Care- London’s largest health and
social care organization- as a mentor. Neil has been a board member
of JCC Global for many years and served as a distinguished mentor
to JCCs in Ukraine. Neil offered the group to come to London and
study the London model on “neutral grounds.” Another collaborator
was Mariano Schlimovich, the Director of the ECJC and EAJCC who
agreed to implement and facilities the seminar. Eventually turning the
twelve participants into a close knit community.
The group visited several institutions and met directors, lay leaders
and staff members of Jewish Care, Norwood, Kisharon and Enfield
Council. Each evening, the group members spent several hours
reflecting on the visits and trying to integrate these experiences into
their project planning process. It was their opportunity to engage the
professionals and volunteers from the three communities in a face to
face encounter. “The visits served as a platform of discovery and an
opportunity to focus conversations and delve deeper into the areas
of connection between their communities. It was an opportunity to
learn how the community in Zaporizhzhia deals with the current war
and on top of that continues to serve the special needs community in
a community with very sparse resources and without any support
from local or national government” reflected Sue Fox.
At the concluding session, Suzanna Levitt from New York said she
was blown away by the programs that they visited. She was
impressed by the enthusiasm and joy of the people who work in
these institutions and was bringing back to her community this sense
of purpose. For Frida Ben Yosef from Eilat it was the first time to
participate in a professional development seminar outside of Israel.
As the professional overseeing social welfare for the city of Eilat and
as an active board member of the Community Centers of Eilat, the
impact of combining the study of special needs- theory and
practices- with the discussions on Jewish Peoplehood and Jewish
identity was very powerful.
For the participants from Ukraine the study experience in London
could not be separated from the war that is raging in Ukraine and
their enormous challenge to continue functioning amid crisis and
uncertainty. Inessa Nossenko, the Executive Director of the Mazal
Tov JCC in Zaporizhzhia said that it was very important for her and
her colleagues to attend this seminar as they felt that they were not
alone. They felt that they were part of a big Jewish people. “In our
special situation in Ukraine” Inessa said “life is not easy. I take from all
of you the experiences that we shared and I’m going to bring it back
to my community. You all gave me an opportunity to learn useful
things that will help the future of my community. The future is in our
hands. We will make things happen.”
The visits were so impactful that the group decided to enlarge the
scope of their work. They decided to find ways to engage more
volunteers with greater skills to serve more people with special
needs. Iris Cohen, the Executive Director of the Eilat Community
Centers is going to take it a step further and initiate a city wide
project that will heavily involve the local municipality and local
institutions. The group foresees building models of best practices
that are replicable and will eventually be shared and adapted by
additional JCCs. JCC Global that initiated the project and is
supervising it, is going to provide the group members an opportunity
to show case their achievements at the upcoming 9th World
Conference of JCCs, this coming November in Jerusalem.
Watching the process of study, debate, disagreement and
reconciliation among the three communities, one could conclude that
the principal of “No decision about me, without me” is not only
applicable to serving individuals with special needs but is also an
excellent guideline for building and sustaining global partnerships.
Funding for this program comes from JCC Global and from a grant from UJA
Federation of New York. JDC and participating JCCs are also supporting the
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