Ruderman Prize Profile: Thirty Years Of Inclusion And Going Strong At The St. Paul JCC
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Ruderman Prize Profile: Thirty Years Of Inclusion And Going Strong At The St. Paul JCC

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion which fosters inclusion of people with disabilities through the Philadelphia Jewish community. She loves writing/editing for “The New Normal” and for WHYY’s newsworks. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall and was chosen for this year’s Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month Book Selections. She’s recently shared an ELI Talk on Standing With Families Raising Kids With Disabilities and has released a journal designed for special needs parents.

Editor's Note: In July, the Ruderman Family Foundation awarded five prizes to agencies across the world that are making the Jewish community into a more inclusive one. The New Normal will profile each of these amazing agencies over the next month. Click here to read last week’s profile.

The goal of the St. Paul JCC’s Inclusion and Accessibility Services Program (IAS) is to provide children, teens and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities the opportunity to be welcomed and fully participate in any and all programs offered by the JCC. The staff work with participants who need extra support and accommodations in numerous programs including: theater, swimming lessons, personal training, fitness programs, adult and youth programs. They have been dedicated to inclusive programming for the last thirty years. The program began in 1984 when parents came together and asked the JCC to create inclusive programming for their children, twelve in total, who had physical and developmental disabilities. One year later, the program doubled to support twenty-four children and has steadily grown in the years since.

At any given time, the JCC employs up to fifteen Inclusion Facilitators, who are trained to work with participants needing support or accommodations in any of our programs. These staff work to ensure that every individual is welcomed and seamlessly integrated into the life of the community center. In addition to using Inclusion Facilitators to ensure that individuals can participate fully in any activity they choose, they offer a number of programs specifically tailored to the needs of persons with disabilities.

In addition to supporting people with disabilities, JCC Executive Director Michael Waldman notes the impact of inclusive programming on the entire community. “Two full generations of typical kids have grown up in a fully inclusive environment,” he says. “It’s changed their outlook on disability. It’s not weird or scary, it’s just part of what’s happening here.” Waldman also notes how many of the people with disabilities who came to the JCC as children and teens now experience the center as their “home” as adults and continue to participate at the fitness center and in many adult activities.

The St. Paul JCC has been a model for other community centers around the country who have wanted to establish similar inclusion programs. Waldman expresses gratitude to the many grants and foundations that have supported the inclusion program over the years and is especially honored to receive the Ruderman Prize.

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