With summer coming to a close, the fall signifies the beginning of school and for many a new start with work. For those families with loved ones with disabilities, having support, advocacy, and someone to help navigate through the school system can be of tremendous help. There are several agencies that provide support to those within the Jewish community with advocacy, educational programming and, for teen/young adults, vocational services, all of which can make back to school time a little less overwhelming.

JF&CS provides educational advocacy through its Disability Lifespan Solutions program. Family advocates are skilled staff persons, who can provide assistance with creating and ensuring implementation of the Individualized Education Plans (IEP), assisting families with identifying out of district placements when needed, and obtaining referrals for assessments, testing, or in-home services.

Gateways: Access to Jewish Education provides a variety of comprehensive services to promote the meaningful inclusion of individuals of all abilities in Jewish life. They not only provide supports to individuals and their families, but also they are a huge resource to educators, day and congregational schools, preschools, synagogues, and organizations. Gateways provides on-site special education support and services to students with a range of learning needs in seven Boston-area Jewish day schools. They employ a team of skilled speech/language therapists, occupational therapists, behaviorists, and learning specialists to integrate personalized services within each day school. Children in participating schools receive direct services individually and/or in small groups, both in and out of classroom, to enhance their academic success and support their social, physical, and behavioral development. They also offer their own thematic Jewish education program on Sundays to students ages 4-18. The program is tailored to children who benefit from highly structured programming, individualized attention and small class sizes. Special education teachers utilize visual supports and differentiated instruction to present a multi-sensory curriculum that includes Jewish holidays, Torah stories, and Hebrew, as well as Jewish culture and traditions. Creative arts and music are included each week. All students receive one-to-one support from teen aides who receive ongoing training in working with children with special needs.

For teens or adults who are looking for assistance with job skills or vocational placements, Jewish Vocational Services' Transition To Work program may be a good fit. This program is an extensive training and internship program which supports young adults with disabilities in developing the skills needed for employment. Through the internship, the individual has the opportunity to not only practice the job skills they've learned, but also receive a pay check and a sense of purpose. This model creates a collaboration with employers to raise awareness about inclusive hiring practices and to engage cooperate partners to consider young adults with disabilities as qualified candidates.

If you're interested in learning more about any of these programs, or other education-related programs and services for individuals with disabilities, contact the Disability Resource Network at drn@jfcsboston.org or 781-693-5640.