Shared by Sunitha Das, Event Co-Chair at the 2015 CHAI Celebration
The CHAI Celebration is a biennial event supporting JF&CS Services for People with Disabilities. This year’s event, held on Wednesday, October 21 at Congregation Mishkan Tefila, celebrated 10 years of the CHAI Works program. The event was co-chaired by Judith & Douglass Krupp, Sunitha Das & Das Narayandas, and Jackie & Alan Weinstein. Co-chair Sunitha Das shared her family’s experience with JF&CS and CHAI Works:
No matter where you come from or how hard you have worked through your child’s years at school, there comes that moment when your loved one with a disability turns 22 - and you KNOW that everything that has been familiar so far is going to stop. It is terrifying.
We heard about JF&CS when we were planning our son Rohan’s transition from high school into the wide unknown. I interviewed a few agencies and got to JF&CS at the very end. I was immediately struck by the huge difference in CHAI Works. No crowded dark basement where the clients sat all day long from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. doing make-believe “work” as I saw in other places. This was a big, bright, busy room with a complicated schedule of all the things to do and places to go and young, fun, professional staff chatting and high-fiving the clients – I could see Rohan taking to this cheerful, purposeful environment like a duck to water!
And he did. Everyone should have the opportunity to be a volunteer and to help someone else in need, the way Rohan and his friends do at senior centers, food pantries, hospitals, and soup kitchens. There is no better way for them and us to feel better about ourselves.
Thus began our nine-year journey with CHAI Works, a program that has given our son community, a feeling of truly belonging, and a tremendous sense of achievement. It is not just the day program onsite that makes such a difference to Rohan’s life. It is the direct support he receives from JF&CS staff members who go into his workplace at Harvard and help him excel at his job every single day.
In Rohan’s case, he was also fortunate enough to be offered an independent living situation in an apartment soon after he turned 22. We had always hoped that he would someday be able to live on his own, but we assumed that would come down the road. It didn’t. Everything – turning 22, stopping school, joining CHAI Works, starting a job, living by himself – everything came together in one massive upheaval of his life (and ours!).
JF&CS rode in to the rescue once again - I truly don’t know what we would have done without them. CHAI Works staff helped Rohan and his roommate, Emma, figure out all the hundreds of details it takes to start living independently. I didn’t sleep for the first sixth months worrying as we parents always do but now, seven years down the road, I can tell you it was the best thing to ever happen to Ro. His sense of self-worth and self-confidence as a result of living on his own, just like every other young man his age, is a miracle for Das [my husband] and me to witness. When we left India 26 years ago in search of a better life for him, we never in our wildest dreams hoped for such a varied, rich, busy, and independent adult life. And in utter honesty, none of this would be possible without the rock-solid support of JF&CS and CHAI Works. The future for Rohan feels hopeful and we are eternally grateful.