In the summer of 1973, when I was a boy, we towed our 32-foot travel traveler to Stone Mountain, Georgia for a family vacation.  As part of the trip, we would take a detour to Atlanta to see Hank Aaron play.  We had the chance to see Hammerin’ Hank hit his 700th home run.  The radio was going crazy letting it be known that the person who caught the home run ball and returned it would receive 700 silver dollars!  I don’t believe we sat in the bleachers, but I do remember being excited to see my first game in a ballpark other than Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. It was my first national game and it was against the New York Mets.  It was awesome, except that the Braves chose to rest Hank Aaron that night.  He would hit his 700th homer a day or two later, on July 21, 1973, against the Phillies’ Ken Brett, becoming just the second baseball player to ever hit 700 home runs in a career.

I was disappointed, but I got over it.  I followed the rest of Aaron’s career and managed to collect a few Hank Aaron baseball cards and which may have just gone up in value following his sad passing at age 86 just a few days ago.

In 1974, Aaron hit home run 715, passing Babe Ruth for the all-time lead. He hit his 755th and final home run on July 20, 1976 against the California Angels.  He retired in October of 1976.

I have enjoyed the beautiful tributes to this great man.  Bud Selig, Commissioner Emeritus of Major League Baseball, wrote of the Hall of Famer, “My wife, Sue, and I are terribly saddened and heartbroken by the passing of the great Henry Aaron, a man we truly loved, and we offer our love and our condolences to his wonderful wife, Billye.”  Selig and so many others spoke of his many wonderful qualities, on and off the field.  “Besides being one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Hank was a wonderful and dear person and a wonderful and dear friend. Not long ago, he and I were walking the streets of Washington, D.C. together and talking about how we’ve been the best of friends for more than 60 years. Then Hank said: ‘Who would have ever thought all those years ago that a black kid from Mobile, Alabama would break Babe Ruth’s home run record and a Jewish kid from Milwaukee would become the Commissioner of Baseball?’

In 2008, Aaron, Selig and ESPN’s Michael Wilbon spoke at the Phoenix Art Museum’s Luncheon of Legends to raise money for educational programming.  At the luncheon, they discussed their 60-year friendship, baseball, heroes and their membership in the Hall of Fame.  The Arizona Jewish newspaper reported that Selig is one of four Jewish people to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he visited Israel in 1998, and wrote a foreword to the book “American Jews and America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball.”

Aaron spoke of past players he admires, including Jewish legend, Sandy Koufax, known as a star pitcher for the Dodgers, and as a Jew who decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.  Despite Koufax's amazing ERA and winning three Cy Young Awards, Aaron managed to do well against Koufax.  He hit .362 with seven home runs off the lefty pitcher.

Baseball and the world need more like Hank Aaron.  He was a great ballplayer, a great man and a great fan.  Selig notes, “The thing about Henry, when you are friends with him, he never lets you down.”

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Call me an optimist if you must.  I prefer to think of myself as an optimistic realist.

I recent wrote an article for Respectability entitled “Turning Crisis Into Opportunity” which offers some glimmers of hope around employment for people with disabilities.  I begin by acknowledging the challenges:  “It has been said that ‘A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.’ The COVID pandemic has certainly posed tremendous vocational challenges for people with disabilities, who, despite already experiencing an employment rate less than half of people without disabilities, experienced 40% greater job loss with minimal recovery. It has also provided unprecedented opportunities—to develop skills, to continue working from home and in person (for those who currently have jobs) and to think creatively about new opportunities.” 

I then note that many people with disabilities and organizations working with them have responded swiftly and creatively. Participants and families in our National Ramah Tikvah Network vocational training programs, located in our 10 Ramah camps in the US and Canada, expressed concerns about social isolation and job skills.  In response, we swiftly created TikvahNet, a vocational training and socialization program.  We have run two cycles of programming thusfar and are about to launch our 3rd cycle tomorrow evening.   In this new cycle, we will continue our vocational training and socializing while also be hearing from model employers in the area of disabilities employment.

This week (tomorrow, Jan 19th), my friend and colleague, Bill Morris of Blue Star Recyclers—with 3 computer and electronic recycling locations in Colorado and one in Chicago—will be participating in) our TikvahNet Tuesday Speaker Series.  It will be broadcast on Facebook Live from 735-8 pm ET

We will be showcasing 4 employers which are committed to employing people with disabilities. In the case of Blue Star, people with disabilities are the “secret ingredient” in the success of the business!  They have learned that some people with autism can stick with a repetitive task for incredibly long periods of time—in doing so, they are solving a society problem of what to do with old computers, as well as the problem of how to retain workers in this industry with high turnover.  

As readers and colleagues know, I am passionate about identifying businesses large and small which train and hire people with disabilities. In my RespectAbility article, I mention two businesses started by Ramah Tikvah participants—Shred Support and Truly Scrumptious by Alexa.  My website has a list in progress of all types of businesses across the US which employ people with disabilities. I am learning about new businesses by the day and can’t wait for COVID to end so I can get on the road and see more!  Please continue to send more my way!   Just yesterday, I learned two cool places in Colorado: 

Jackie’s Bar and Grill and Steamer’s Coffee House (Arvada) https://steamerscoffeeshop.com/

Joy House Project (Longmont and Estes Park) https://www.joyhouseproject.com/the-joy

 

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Original Article Published On The Respectability.org

It has been said that “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” The COVID pandemic has certainly posed tremendous vocational challenges for people with disabilities, who, despite already experiencing an employment rate less than half of people without disabilities, experienced 40% greater job loss with minimal recovery. It has also provided unprecedented opportunities—to develop skills, to continue working from home and in person (for those who currently have jobs) and to think creatively about new opportunities.

Many people with disabilities and organizations working with them have responded swiftly and creatively. Participants and families in our National Ramah Tikvah Network vocational training programs, located in our 10 Ramah camps in the US and Canada, expressed concerns about social isolation and job skills. In response, we swiftly created TikvahNET, a vocational training and socialization program.

We recently completed our second 8-week program and will soon begin our third. We offer facilitated socialization time and work in small breakout rooms, using PowerPoint slides and discussions, to address such topics as physical and mental wellness, money and budgeting, laundry and booking skills, resumes and interviews and social media skills and etiquette. In our third cycle, we will bring employers with impressive records of hiring people with disabilities to share what they are looking for in potential employees, and we will use our breakout room time to work on those skills.

Alumni of our programs—some in their 40s and 50s—have shared their journeys from camp and high school graduation to the present, focusing on their employment, social lives and level of inclusion and participation in the Jewish community. There have been heartwarming moments. Austin, who works in a hospital in St. Louis, and Tiffany, who works in a grocery store in Los Angeles, spoke of being essential workers. They and other Tikvah alum feel valued when thanked for performing these essential duties.

Other members of the Tikvah community have productively used their time at home during the pandemic to focus on start-up businesses. Uriel and Jacob, two young Washington, DC-area men with Down Syndrome, have created Shred Support, a shredding business. Alexa, a Long Island, NY-based young woman, also with Down Syndrome, has created Truly Scrumptious by Alexa, selling custom chocolate-covered cookies. Yum!

Beyond our program, Chapel Haven Schleifer Center, a residential school and independent living program in New Haven, CT, runs a program called CareerAbility, founded to meet the need for meaningful employment among its participants. During this time, CareerAbility focused all of their energy on keeping job seekers and working adults engaged in the workforce. They immediately launched virtual offerings while simultaneously providing safe community-based work experiences for adults to perform their career explorations, internships, and jobs. This resulted in clients engaged in 67 community-based job skill development experiences.

It is hard to conceptualize what this will mean post Covid-19. But these tough times demand out-of-the-box thinking, creativity, flexibility and taking calculated risks. There may be an ongoing need for more cleaning and sanitizing at businesses or hospitals. If people remain reluctant to travel to stores, it could be useful to start a delivery or courier business modeled after Good Foot Delivery in Toronto, Canada, which provides personalized point-to-point delivery on foot and public transit, creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

As we emerge from the pandemic, what is clear is that we NEED a range of employment options for people with disabilities including small businesses and big companies, on-site and remote options, flexible and varying hours each week–5 hours, 15 hours, 40 hours or more. And these jobs need to exist across a wide range of industries. I have been working to map the landscape of creative places of employment for people with disabilities. I have discovered magicians, IKEA furniture assemblers, bike mechanics, car restorers, high-end cabinet makers, vertical farmers, coders, cybersecurity specialists, mammogram readers and more.

Our tradition tells us that we may sow in tears and reap in joy. Let us not waste the crisis of this pandemic, but reap creative gains in the post-pandemic employment for people with disabilities!

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Original Article

Dean Cohen has fond memories of growing up in the Jewish youth movement of Melbourne, Australia. While Cohen and his peers participated in B’nai Akiva or Habonim youth groups and camps, he remembers
that “people with disabilities were excluded. They didn’t have the same social and camp experiences that we had!” In 2014, Cohen started Flying Fox, a camp program for people with disabilities, ages 8-16.
The Melbourne-based Flying Fox organization has grown tremendously in six short years.

Flying Fox offers “fun, positive social experiences” to young adults with disabilities. The first camp hosted 19 participants. To date, Fly Fox has provided weekend camp experiences to 250 participants. While the<br>program has “strong Jewish roots,” it is open to participants of all backgrounds.

Cohen, who currently serves as CEO, notes that there are many camping organizations in Australia, and several which serve youth and young adults with disabilities including two Jewish organizations–Camp Sababa (a sister organization in Sydney) and Friendship Circle, affiliated with Chabad. “What makes Flying Fox unique is that it is mainly youth led,” reports Cohen. He is proud of the responsible young people who undergo extensive training and volunteer regularly with Flying Fox. “These are young people who can offer complex support needs for our participants.”

Ricki Sher, Head of Programs, feels the “youthful energy” they offer is “unique and contagious.” The young, enthusiastic volunteers serve as peer mentors for the participants and therefore create an inclusive experience.

Sher envisions a day when “500 or 1000 or 10,000 alumni go out to the world and use their experience to shape a more inclusive world!” Sher, who at 26 years old, playfully considers herself to be “the grandmother of the group,” imagines a day when a former volunteer, positively impacted by the experience of working with Flying Fox, goes on to open a coffee shop—and makes it physically accessible, and employs people with disabilities.”
Sher describes Flying Fox weekend camp programs as “fun, with laughs, smiles, lots of energy, music, roller blading, sports, an epic talent show, silent disco and a slip and slide—it is a bubble of fun and happiness!” Camp Wings and camp Sababa provide 4 to 5-night sleepaway camping programs to 30 participants— supported by 80 volunteers- in a rural setting outside of Melbourne. Junior and senior camps both take place during winter and summer school holidays.

The SHOTZ program offers weekend getaways for 6 or 7 campers and their buddies. They take place at Tova House, a home recently purchased by Flying Fox in Lancefield, an hour from Melbourne in Lancefield.
Flying Fox also offers SOCS (Siblings of Camp Sababa), a sibling support program for siblings of people with disabilities. They host camps and weekends where participants connect and share life experiences with other siblings of people with disabilities. A recent camp included 50 siblings of people with disabilities. Additional programs accommodate participants with more complex support needs. They typically include 25 campers, 50 buddies, medical personnel, a psychologist and additional adult support.
Cohen and Sher are pleased with their program, participants, their families and their amazing volunteers. And they continue to dream. Sher smiles, “My dream is to go national around Australia, and to create Flying Fox hubs around the world!”

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