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Finding Life in Struggles

Lessons from Judith Creed, Founder of JCHAI

Judith Creed with the fellows sitting and standing around her

RespectAbility Board Members Judith Creed and Linda Burger with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 20 – “What is your story? How did you overcome your struggles?” These were the central questions that Judith Creed, a passionate mother, sought to address during her talk with the RespectAbility Fellows and staff on Monday, July 10.

Creed, a founding member of Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence (JCHAI), brought with her a very unique story of how she overcame adversity as a mother of a child with developmental disabilities. Most importantly, she has challenged many individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities, including her own son, Jonah, to conquer their struggles.

After graduating from Temple University with a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, Creed was committed to treating speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults. Despite her familiarity with working with individuals with disabilities, when she gave birth to her son, she could not help but be overcome with fear and shock. Jonah, who is now 45 years old, was born with significant developmental disabilities.

Creed moved beyond the initial shock and fear with her resilient love for her wonderful son. Her story with Jonah radiated tenacious and persevering love of a mother. Creed did not want to raise Jonah as a person with disabilities, but as a person, first and foremost, who happens to have disabilities.

“I had to raise Jonah to be tough because I knew his life would be tough and would require resiliece” Creed said.

In order to raise Jonah as an independent adult, Creed had to make some of the most difficult decisions as a parent. For example, on one rainy day she did not drive Jonah to school. Instead, she placed Jonah in a situation where he would either have to learn to take the bus or stand in the rain. Out of love, she chose not to protect Jonah but to teach him to protect himself.

Creation of JCHAI

Despite Creed’s efforts to raise Jonah as an independent adult, by the time Jonah had graduated from high school, he was not yet ready to be independent. Consequently, Creed and Jonah travelled across the state seeking programs that could help him but returned without success. However, the persistent mother that she is, Creed decided to pioneer a path for both individuals with disabilities and their parents. In 1987, together with five other families of people with disabilities, Creed founded JCHAI in Philadelphia, PA.

JCHAI was a program established to create residential living geared toward helping adults with developmental disabilities to live and flourish in a supportive, home environment in a loving community. Since inception, JCHAI has expanded to offer a range of independent living options and work training in the community. They also have developed a transition program to teach independent living and vocational skills to people with disabilities who do not participate in the residential programs yet. As a result of unique services that provide person-specific supports, JCHAI’s program yields a competitive employment rate of approximately 80 percent for its 130 clients. For example, Jonah who could not cross streets alone, now can take the bus, taxi, train or whatever transportation is necessary to travel alone. Furthermore, he currently is employed full time, lives independently and has made friends who support him

Concluding her inspiring story, Creed invited the Fellows to ponder upon the question, “What is your story?” Now, we at Respectability welcome you to join us in answering the question. How is your story unfolding?

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RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Meet the Author

D.H. Lee
D.H. Lee

D.H. Lee is a Program Development and Fundraising Fellow. He is a rising senior at Boston College, where he serves as the Director of Programming for the Council for Students with Disabilities in the University Government of Boston College. He has advocated for increased dorm accessibility.

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