By Rebecca Wanatick, Ed.M.
Manager, Community Inclusion & Program Services
When I was 12 years old, I began babysitting. This is my first memory of paid employment, but I know that I had opportunities to volunteer and develop leadership skills long before that. I’m sure that many of us can reflect back on these early opportunities. I recall having responsibilities around my own home, cleaning dishes, mowing the lawn, and making my bed. I also recall volunteering with students with disabilities at my elementary school and with younger children at my synagogue during High Holidays.
Internships, volunteering, and other work experiences help us learn new skills and find what we love to do. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same access to opportunities like this. There are, however, things we can do to help make this possible for more members of our community.
Our current environment, due to COVID, has caused an increase in unemployment and underemployment across the board. However, the rate of unemployment for people with disabilities is almost double that of those without a disability. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in January 2021, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was at 12%, compared to 6.6% for those without a disability. These unemployment numbers reflect people who did not have a job but were available for work and actively seeking employment.
I challenge us all to think creatively about how we may be able to open doors for individuals with disabilities in our community to learn new skills leading toward meaningful employment. Is your synagogue preparing a mailing to your congregation? Have you hired staff yet for your preschool or camp summer programs? Does your place of employment need to update web content or proofread some documents? Do you own a small business and need assistance unpacking, sorting, or tracking inventory? If so, Jewish Federation and our partner agencies that work with clients with disabilities would love to help connect you with potential.
“Having a job is an important goal for many JESPY House clients,” shared JESPY Executive Director Audrey Winkler. “They are eager to earn a paycheck, to be of value to their employer, and to be included among their coworkers. Volunteer opportunities are also of value to our clients, providing them with a feeling of accomplishment, and helping to set the stage for future job opportunities. Paid or volunteer opportunities give people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities self-confidence, routines and schedules and boost social skills.”
Together we can help identify job opportunities for people with disabilities, creating a community in which everyone is able to meaningfully contribute and participate. There are many positive values associated with an inclusive work environment. Increased innovation, higher revenues and improved productivity are just a few ways that an inclusive workplace positively contributes to the organization. Wouldn’t we all like to work in an environment that reflect these values?
“At Jewish Vocational Service of NJ (JVS), we work with all of our program participants to help them reach their maximum level of self-sufficiency which for many includes a job in the community,” said Senior Program Director Rebecca Shulman. “The value of work cannot be underestimated in terms of the economic, social and emotional benefits a job provides in our society. Individuals who have disabilities need and want to be included in the workforce and have shown, if given the opportunity, that they have the skills and abilities needed to be successful.”
Our Greater MetroWest community has organizations that are dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities build skills, find jobs, and provide the necessary job coaching and supports to help someone onboard and meet with success. JVS and JESPY have dedicated departments whose role it is to do just this work. If you, your place of employment, or someone you know may be seeking to hire, please reach out to these agencies to connect with potential employees or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 929-3129. I’m happy to help make these connections.
We can work together to create a community in which all members have the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to our Greater MetroWest community.