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Miami-Dade Jewish Community Centers Offer Welcoming Environments for Special-Needs Populations

Honoring their shared mission of serving all members of the local Jewish population, Miami’s three Federation-supported Jewish community centers (JCC), have many programs that address the needs of people with disabilities. Focused on enhancing participants' quality of life, the programs at the Alper JCC, the Michael Ann Russell JCC and the Miami Beach JCC offer engaging recreational, social and educational opportunities.

Dave and Mary Alper JCC

In South Dade, the Dave and Mary Alper JCC’s Shirley and Chester Paul Special Needs Program offers a fun, stimulating and dynamic program for people of all ages with cognitive and/or physical disabilities. The program includes Summer Day Camp Inclusion, Winter Mini-Camp, Spring Mini-Camp and No-School Holiday opportunities. Activities are structured to instill confidence, develop social and life skills, increase attention span, and improve fine and gross motor abilities through sports, indoor and outdoor games, swimming, cooking and field trips and more.

Elyse Molk, Director of Youth and Camp Services at the Alper JCC, emphasized, “The Shirley and Chester Paul Special Needs Program serves our community as a whole, including children and adults with disabilities, by involving them in the larger scope of our activities. We want to be an inclusive environment where everyone, including special-needs populations, feels at home.”

The Summer Day Camp Inclusion Program integrates campers with disabilities into the JCC's general camp groups. Those with special needs are paired with an advocate to guide them throughout the day. The Clayton Feig Teen and Young Adult Club welcomes high-functioning teenagers with special needs and offers two field trips per month throughout the year. Meanwhile, Alper’s Jerusalem Club for Special Needs Adults provides participants with opportunities to socialize and make friends through organized field trips, arts and crafts, cooking and Judaic activities

Michael-Ann Russell JCC

The Michael-Ann Russell JCC (MAR JCC) in North Miami Beach has also made inclusivity a priority. David Surowitz, Assistant Executive Director of the Michael-Ann Russell JCC, said, “We are committed to providing a warm and welcoming environment for our entire community, including those with special needs.”

MAR JCC currently offers three distinct summer programs for children, teens and young adults with disabilities. Younger elementary school aged special-needs students are mainstreamed into the JCC’s summer day camp and, if needed, have the support of a “shadow counselor” who helps them adapt into the general camp population. Older elementary and middle-school students with special needs who require greater supervision are paired with individual counselors to enjoy the general camp environment, or to participate in specialty programs focusing on soccer, tennis, gymnastics, basketball, swimming and more. Older teens are welcomed into the Edie Laquer Special Needs Ometz (courage) Summer Program, which offers an opportunity to learn vocational and life skills while participating in an organized day camp environment. The Ometz Program emphasizes hands-on learning and includes work experiences at local retailers or on campus. The group often visits Sonny’s Bakery in North Miami Beach to try their hand at rolling dough for rugelach and other baked goods.

Plans are under way to introduce a variety of new programs for special-needs children and teens in early 2018 including classes in fitness, tennis, swimming, art and theater. A special-needs teen social club program is also expected to begin in January.

“Our goal is to create an environment of fun, learning and self-discovery where everyone feels like they belong,” added Surowitz.

Miami Beach JCC

The Miami Beach JCC is also doing its part to highlight diversity. The campus hosts Chabad Friendship Circle’s Sunday Circle program for school-age children with special needs. The monthly program gives parents a chance to enjoy respite time while their children participate in arts and crafts, music, sports, Judaic activities, sensory play, baking and more. Local teen volunteers join in the fun and lead the group in exploring Jewish themes through innovative and creative activities.

In addition, working with Chabad’s Friendship Circle, the JCC now offers swim lessons for children with disabilities. An inclusion program is also integrated into its Summer Day Camp experience, where trained advocates assist special-needs campers to help them interact with their fellow campers and adapt to regularly scheduled activities.

Paul Frishman, Chief Executive Officer of the Galbut Family Miami Beach JCC, said, “We’re looking at every possible opportunity to expand our programs for special-needs populations and welcome them into our JCC family.”

All of the JCCs in Miami-Dade County receive funding and scholarship support from the Annual Greater Miami Jewish Federation/UJA Campaign, enabling people of all ages to benefit from social-service, recreational, educational and cultural programs year-round.

The Mission of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation is to mobilize human and financial resources to care for those in need, strengthen
Jewish life and advance the unity, values and shared purpose of the Jewish people in Miami, in Israel and around the world.

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