Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month is a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities. Many communities offer various programs for those with disabilities, even during a pandemic, and Northeast Ohio is no exception. Each organization offers something unique and many of them are accepting volunteers. The Cleveland Jewish News sent an email questionnaire to organizations and synagogues that offer services for those with disabilities. Their responses appear below.


Friendship Circle of Cleveland

27900 Gates Mills Blvd., Pepper Pike, OH 44124

216-377-3000 | friendscleveland.com

• How have your services transitioned during COVID-19?

Many of Friendship Circle’s 20-plus programs have continued to spark friendship, connection and support for exceptional children, their families and Jewish teenagers by being conducted virtually. Examples are social skills club, teen scene, lunch bunch, young adult club, summer and winter camps, fun days, moms’ networking and Torah study. For children for whom virtual programs are not an option, one-on-one, socially spaced indoor programs are offered. During the warmer months, outside socially spaced programs included porch pals and playground visits. For families and the community, monthly themed tailgate events are bringing people together for an hour of spirit and entertainment in the safety of their cars.

• How can someone volunteer during COVID-19?

The backbone of Friendship Circle is its teen volunteers. Although Friendship Circle serves children of all religious faiths, Friendship Circle requires the teenage volunteers to be Jewish. Eighth to 12th graders can join the volunteer club to participate in virtual and/or in-person COVID-19-safe programs, volunteer at tailgate events, and help assemble care packages. Adult volunteers are also needed. If you have a special expertise to share or you can help assemble or deliver care packages, please contact Siva Grossman at 216-377-3000, ext. 1008, or siva@friendscleveland.com.

• How can people help you until things return to “normal?”

Friendship Circle is all about enabling exceptional children and their families to overcome isolation, so the needs have not changed during the pandemic; they have heightened. Adults can help by spreading the word about Friendship Circle services to friends and family who would benefit from them. They can volunteer on a committee that would benefit from their expertise or interests. Jewish teens can help by joining the volunteer club – a step that is often life-changing for their special friend and themselves. The community can also help to drive and deliver care packages.


Jewish Family Service Association Of Cleveland

29125 Chagrin Blvd., Pepper Pike, OH 44122

216-292-3999 | jfsa-cleveland.org

• How have your services transitioned during COVID-19?

JFSA provides comprehensive services to people with disabilities, ranging from housing and residential services, social and wellness, day support, vocational and employment services, family advocacy, volunteer opportunities and many others. During the pandemic, our services became even more necessary. Changes to our disability services have varied based on type of service and compliance with federal and state guidelines for organizations like JFSA.

Our residential housing services continue to provide 24/7 and independent living direct support by JFSA staff, who follow strict safety protocols to maintain the health of our clients and staff.

Services were expanded to include more telephone contact as well as digital communication like Zoom to meet client needs and ensure continued community contact. As essential workers, our work continued even though there was a pandemic. While some services may be offered by telephone or ZOOM, most are still offered facemask to facemask. We sit a bit further apart and we wash our hands more often, but the need to be there for people, to help with preparing food or showering, providing calm guidance and support hasn’t changed.

• How can someone volunteer during COVID-19?

Although we typically have many volunteer opportunities throughout the agency, during the pandemic, we have limited our volunteering opportunities to drivers in our home delivered meals program. This is a critical volunteer position that ensures that home-bound clients receive a nourishing kosher meal each week. In fact, since the onset of pandemic, the number of home-delivered meals clients has increased so the need for volunteer drivers is always present. If you are interested in serving as a volunteer driver, contact Laura Kestin at 216-378-3475.

• How can people help you until things return to “normal?”

All of our clients, including those with disabilities, really appreciate the ability to reconnect with the community through our programming on Zoom. If you have a special talent (musical, storytelling, etc.) that you can share via Zoom, let us know and we will work with you. Contact Laura Kestin at 216-378-3475. In addition, JFSA accepts nonperishable food donations to our client food pantry at our offices during regular business hours.


LiveSpecial.com (a project of NCJW Cleveland)

26055 Emery Road, Warrensville Heights, OH 44128

216-378-2204 | LiveSpecial.com

• How have your services transitioned during COVID-19?

LiveSpecial.com, a project of NCJW/CLE has been able to support the special needs community through the following:

- Transition boot camps and educational programs have been offered virtually.

- We have been included as a vendor at virtual educational fairs for partner agencies.

- Our yearly magazine is still being published and is available digitally on our website. View it here.

- Our website, LiveSpecial.com, is a project of NCJW/CLE and available 24/7 for families and professionals to find appropriate providers and services. Our coordinator, Wendy Spitz at wendy@livespecial.com, offers advice and guidance.

• How can someone volunteer during COVID-19?

We recently launched a new program, Caring Friends, where we match volunteers with individuals who can benefit from a weekly interaction with a new friend.

• How can people help you until things return to “normal?”

Many opportunities exist for volunteers through NCJW/CLE. Community Service projects continue as well as advocacy actions. To get involved, email the Director of Volunteers Becky Brouman at rbrouman@ncjwcleveland.org.


Milestones Autism Resources

4853 Galaxy Parkway, Suite A, Warrensville Heights, OH 44128

216-464-7600 | milestones.org

• How have your services transitioned during COVID-19?

When the pandemic hit, Milestones Autism Resources quickly pivoted to present the Milestones National Autism Conference in a virtual format in 2020, providing a more accessible and flexible format, with on-demand, educational sessions from the comfort of home. Because of this success in shifting formats, the 2021 conference will remain virtual. Registration is now open at milestones.org/conference.

Milestones is also delivering family and self-advocate workshops virtually, as well as professional and first responder training. In addition, Milestones is offering virtual consultations to provide customized guidance to families in the local autism community.

As always, families may also receive services through the Milestones free autism help desk remotely by calling 216-464-7600, ext. 200. To connect with a Spanish-speaking staff member, call 216-464-7600 ext. 5.

• How can someone volunteer during COVID-19?

There are many opportunities for volunteering virtually, including providing administrative and communications support, as well as assisting with fundraising efforts. Our committees are actively working and welcoming new volunteers to assist with the planning of our virtual spring event and autism conference.

Young professionals looking to get involved may be interested in the Milestones associate board, a group that leverages their time, networks and resources for friend-raising and fundraising.

To find out about volunteering and committee opportunities, contact Mary Meister at 216-464-7600, ext. 124, or mmeister@milestones.org.

• How can people help you until things return to “normal?”

We welcome community support to help us continue to provide our free help desk. Contact Vanetta Perry at vperry@milestones.org to learn more about Strike It Big Your Way, Milestones’ virtual spring event.

For more information about Milestones Autism Resources, contact Hannah Harp, hharp@milestones.org.


Yachad Cleveland

4429 Baintree Road, University Heights OH 44118

216-299-1004 | yachad.org/Cleveland

• How have your services transitioned during COVID-19?

Yachad immediately shifted to a virtual “on-demand” platform as the COVID-19 situation began to unfold. These daily offerings include physical fitness classes, cooking and arts demos, guest speakers, comedy and improv workshops, magic shows, science experiments, movie and book discussion clubs, prayer and meditation groups, music and much more. In addition to daily virtual programming, our site also provides support for the entire family through parent and sibling programs, peer buddies, activity kits delivered to one’s door, holiday and Shabbat independent materials, educational workshops, and more. Visit

yachad.org/yachadondemand for the full landing site.

• How have you been able to engage those using your services during COVID-19?

We work hard to maintain a personal feel and close connection with our members, even during these challenging times. Through regular virtual check-ins and programs, home-delivered packages, and carefully organized in-person events, we supplement the virtual programming in consistent, meaningful ways.

• How can someone volunteer during COVID-19?

Volunteers are used to assist in delivering home packages in addition to serving as virtual buddies and “Partners in Torah.” Community members are also able to participate in our online programming, enhancing the experience for all involved. Contact Sara at clevelandyachad@ou.org to get involved.

• How can people help you until things return to “normal?”

We encourage people to really internalize our mission of inclusion and belonging during this time. Think as broadly as possible about anyone – with or without special needs – who might be lonely, isolated, or otherwise affected by the pandemic. Get creative in finding ways to reach out and show your care and friendship. It means the world.

– Compiled by Becky Raspe

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