Spotlight on Inclusion Across JCC Chicago
Throughout the month of February, we will be sharing blogs from families who participate in our Early Childhood and Apachi Day Camp programs and from Keshet families. They’ve all been touched by the inclusive programming we provide, our teams, friendships made and collaborative work of our Social Services team.
This year our son, Leor, joined Florence G. Heller JCC’s Kindergarten program. His experience has exceeded our expectations and we are enormously grateful to the Rachel Weber, Early Childhood Director, for her openness, advocacy, and belief in inclusion. When we approached Rachel about including Leor, who is hard of hearing and has an extensive Individualized Education Programs (IEP), in the program, she was enthusiastic and committed to making it work. Leor’s aide, who is an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, seamlessly fits in with the class. She makes sure that Leor can be a full participant in every activity that the class is doing. Not only that, but the entire class is also learning ASL. Leor is having the time of his life, making friends, and even asks to go to school on Saturdays.
– Naomi Shapiro, Florence G. Heller JCC Early Childhood Parent
Not many people find out their child has Down’s syndrome at 3 years old. Most either know before birth or shortly after, and act accordingly. That wasn’t the case for us. We knew something was contributing to our child’s developmental delay, but after numerous visits to specialists and an array of tests, we were still unable to put a label on it aside from global developmental delay.
When you are on a long car ride, unsure how long it will take to get to your destination, it’s nice to have good company. We were extremely fortunate in that regard. Shortly after starting at Bernard Weinger JCC Early Childhood, Rachel Schwartz, Director of Social Services at JCC Chicago, offered to put together a roundtable with teachers, therapists, and daycare leadership every few weeks to share notes, strategies and actionable items. It was so touching, and better yet, productive. We really rallied together to help our amazing kid!
When the diagnosis for Mosaic Down’s syndrome was confirmed, it was a bit of a shock. It was also surprising to hear from the Down Syndrome Clinics at the Advocate Children’s Hospital that we were doing everything right and there was literally nothing to change in our care plan. The best approach was the one we were taking, having assembled an amazing, multi-faceted support system to address needs from every angle. That made us feel like we hadn’t lost ground, despite not knowing what we were up against for so long.
The future is a bit uncertain, but it is bright. Kids are package deals, and some of the things we love most about our child are almost certainly a result of his Down’s Syndrome and the way it makes him think and act. We couldn’t be happier.
We need to give a special shout out to Rena Rosen, Inclusion Coordinator and Early Childhood Educator for JCC Chicago, who has not only formed a very special bond with Presley, but also with the whole family. She is an unbelievable educator, advocate, and friend. Even though we haven’t been back since Covid hit, we still love our J family and feel their support around us.
– Carly Corey, Bernard Weinger JCC Early Childhood Parent
Our family has been a part of the Jacob Duman Early Childhood program at Lake County JCC since our son was 2½ years old. The day that we started, we knew we were going to be a part of a terrific community that loved and cared for our child just as much as we did. Although our son has a language impairment and autism, the J has included him in all the classroom activities. Our son has grown to know and love all the teachers in the facility. He greets them, and they him, each and every day which offers him a sense of comfort and safety. He also has a strong bond with many of the children in his classroom. He has always been included in birthday parties and some playdates and continues to talk about these events years later. While we have faced some challenges, we always felt the support of the teachers, directors, and the social workers at JCC Chicago. They have all reached out to us, outside of business hours, to check in on our family and to see what more they can do to support us. This really helped us to not feel so alone in the process. We are so grateful to be a part of such a caring, supportive community.
– Jacob Duman Early Childhood at Lake County JCC Parent
I grew up in the south, one of only three Jewish families in our neighborhood. We drove 45 minutes to attend synagogue and JCC summer camp, and I’m so glad we did. I met one of my best friends when I was 12 at a JCC day camp. Fast forward 20+ years, and my own kids are forging what I hope are lifelong friendships through JCC Chicago programs.
Enrolling our kids in the Early Childhood program at Bernard Weinger JCC was one of the best decisions my husband and I have made as parents. They’ve felt so completely loved and welcomed from day one and have a strong sense of connection to their Jewish heritage. In addition to enrolling in the Early Childhood program, our oldest, Sylvie, attended Apachi Village Day Camp in summer 2019.
She would come home from camp and tell stories about the friends she played with and the fun they had with two names coming up quite often – Nora and Noah B. Noah was in her preschool class and Nora was a new friend. It wasn’t until several weeks after camp started that Sylvie mentioned anything about Nora being different. Nora has developmental disabilities and had an aide with her at camp throughout the day.
Hearing Sylvie talk about playing and laughing with Nora each day and seeing the pictures of the three of them shared from their camp group – I knew that this was the start of something special. We’ve been fortunate to form friendships with Nora and Noah’s families outside of camp too. These three play and laugh together as any kids their age do. It’s the most incredible, heartwarming sight to see – and is all because of being paired together at camp.
I asked Sylvie today to tell me what being a friend means to her. Her response? “Being a friend means to share and respect them, to care about them, and that friends are like family.” When I ask about her friends Nora and Noah, she smiles and says “Me, Nora and Noah just have the best time together.”
The friendship these three formed moved me more than I ever imagined possible. So much so, that today I serve as the Director of Development for The Nora Project, a non-profit that Nora’s family started to teach empathy and inclusion in the classroom for kids of all ages. As Sylvie says, I work with my dear friend Lauren, Nora’s mom, every day to “teach kids how to be friends with kids like Nora.”
I can’t wait for the day that these three can laugh and play together again, post-pandemic.
– Deana Kaplan, Bernard Weinger JCC Early Childhood Parent