Washington, D.C., July 3, 2018 – Students with a wide variety of disabilities, including Autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, learning, attention, mental health and other disabilities are improving the lives of people in need in Washington, D.C. Through a program called “Summer of Service,” the teens are making food for people experiencing homelessness, sorting goods in food pantries, visiting senior citizens and improving area parks.
The program is a partnership between the Edlavitch DCJCC, which has more than 25 years of proven leadership in providing safe, outstanding volunteer service opportunities, and RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. The program, called “Summer of Service,” is a summer day camp filled with community service opportunities for Washington-area middle and high school students. It is open to students with all abilities as youth with and without disabilities are invited to participate in the inclusive, welcoming and successful program.
The non-sectarian program is staffed by experienced CPR-certified professionals. Staff members include para-educators and special education teachers from the Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) programs for children with Asperger’s along and with EDCJCC inclusion staff.
Students in the program earn 30 Student Service Learning credit hours per week in a safe, fun, fully integrated and enriching environment.
Said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who co-founded both the EDCJCC community service program decades ago and RespectAbility five years ago, “This is an opportunity for youth with disabilities to show how much they can contribute to people in need. For far too long people have viewed people with disabilities through a lens of pity. However, people with disabilities also have talents they want to contribute to making their neighbors happier, healthier and better off.”
Fully one-in-five people have a disability. Disabilities can be physical, cognitive, mental health or other issues that are barriers to every day living. There are six million students with disabilities in America’s public schools and Summer of Service is a model for other areas to follow. Today 1,107,606 African American/black students with disabilities are enrolled in America’s public schools. Likewise, there are 1,531,699 Latino students with disabilities in our schools today. Overall, only 65 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 84 percent of students without disabilities. Similarly, only 57 percent of black students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 76 percent of black students without disabilities. Only 59 percent of Latino students with disabilities graduate high school, compared to 79 percent of Latino students without a disability.
“It is vital for students with disabilities to see themselves early on in terms of what they CAN accomplish, and not what they cannot” said Mizrahi. “Some of the most talented people in history had disabilities. Beethoven was deaf and Harriet Tubman lived with epilepsy. Selena Gomez has lupus, Steven Hawking uses a mobility device, and Stevie Wonder is blind. Richard Branson, Whoopi Goldberg, Daymond John, Charles Schwab and Harry Belafonte have dyslexia.”
“It’s wonderful to be able to provide an opportunity for teens of all abilities to gain experience in making a difference while also helping the vulnerable population throughout DC. It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Cassidy Jones, Inclusion Programming Manager at the EDCJCC’s Inclusion Programming – programming for individuals of all abilities.
Today there are vast changes for people with disabilities who want to have jobs and live independently, just like anyone else. RespectAbility and its partners are championing progress. Last year there was a 4-fold improvement in the number of new jobs for people with disabilities; 14,479 people with disabilities got new jobs. In Maryland 5,944 people with disabilities got new jobs. Employment levels for people with disabilities in the District of Columbia lag considerably behind those of other areas in the DMV.
RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, is headquartered in Rockville, Maryland. They are devoted to expanding educational and employment success for people with disabilities. For more information, see www.RespectAbility.org.
For more than 25 years, the Washington EDCJCC’s Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service (MCCCS) has been a leader in providing community service opportunities in the Washington-area. Anchored by four Days of Service, including the area’s largest Christmas Day volunteer effort involving more than 1000 participants annually, the EDCJCC provides high-impact volunteer projects year around to address unmet needs of the most vulnerable in our city. All volunteer opportunities are open to all. MCCCS provides support to the DC community in need regardless of age, race, gender, disability, or religion. Visit EDCJCC.org/Inclusion to learn more.