A recent article in the Chicago Tribune, "Why adults with developmental disabilities are waiting seven years, or longer, for programs they need to live on their own," shined much-needed light on the State of Illinois' disastrous and shameful system of funding and services for adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities.
It is staggering for many to learn that nearly 20,000 people in the state are on waitlists for adult programs. The article highlighted one young man, Nick Redfern, who is 25 years old and has been on the waitlist for funding for seven years. Nick's parents cannot afford the one-on-one attention Nick requires. As a result, since completing his high school transition program, Nick has become increasingly isolated and has lost many of the skills he acquired in school. According to his mother, "He wants to be helpful, do things and be productive; there isn't that much that I can get going for him and it's frustrating for me and I think it is for him too."
While it is admittedly uncomfortable to be confronted with the magnitude of need, and to hear the tragic personal narratives that unfold because of the decay and neglect that define our state's system, articles like this raise awareness and can inspire us to galvanize, to come together as Jews to do more and better.
Adults with disabilities, including those in the Jewish community, who cannot afford employment and/or residential services without state funding, are at risk for poverty and homelessness. This situation is anathema to our Jewish values, which recognize each person's right to be part of the community and call upon us to meet the needs of the most vulnerable .Jewish texts and teachings, from Isaiah and Leviticus, are clear: "All Israel is responsible for one another; do not curse a person who is deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind."
Consistent with our values and teaching, JUF has elevated its work to meet the needs of adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities in important and impactful ways. The Jewish Community Fund for Adults with Disabilities endowment fund has been established, with an initial fundraising goal of $10 million, to provide funding for adults who cannot afford the services they need and deserve. We are well on our way to meeting this goal.
Beyond fundraising, JUF and our Encompass program are working to create inclusive social opportunities so that adults will not be relegated to spending time alone in their homes. We are leveraging JUF's support for organizations that engage Jewish millennials, including OneTable, Moishe House, Base Hillel, ChiTribe and many others. Professionals from these organizations came together with professionals from our partner agencies in January for a day of networking and training on inclusion and belonging. These connections will result in a broad and deep range of social opportunities for Jewish adults with disabilities, enhancing their lives even while awaiting services.
Perhaps what will spur us to act is the stark realization that disability is not about the "other." Whether one of the increasing number of people born with a disability or adjusting to the new normal of an emergent disability that inevitably comes with aging, none of us is immune.
No matter why you are called to act, my hope is that you will join with JUF and Encompass so that we can all "behold how good and pleasant it is when all people live together as one."
Jodi Newmark is the Director of JUF Encompass, which works with agency partners JCC Chicago, JCFS Chicago, Keshet, Libenu, and Yachad to meet the needs of adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities and ensure their inclusion in the Jewish community. For information, emailJodiNewmark@juf.orgor call (312) 357‑4959.