Developmental Disabilities Services


February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month

Happy JDAIM! If you haven’t heard, February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month. While this may be a bit of a mouthful, it is certainly worth the tongue twister.  In 2013, a survey of the American Jewish community was conducted by the organization Respectability; this survey found that those with intellectual and developmental disabilities were dramatically underrepresented among those engaged in Jewish life. The results indicated that most people with disabilities opt out of Jewish life after feeling alienated by Jewish organizations.  Fast forward to 2019, and in my opinion, I feel that we have made leaps and bounds since those survey results came out. There are adults with disabilities employed at Jewish owned businesses, popular camps are structured to be more inclusive, and some synagogues host sensory-friendly services.

JDAIM was kicked off in Atlanta with The Power of One event. The Power of One was created to honor those who have made an impact in their organization in the area of inclusion. This year, 31 different honorees from local synagogues, schools, camps, and programs were represented at this event. Around 400 community members showed up to support these honorees and rally around the concept of inclusion. The turnout was truly amazing. 

Those who work with me have probably heard me use the phrase “Honey, don’t stare syndrome”. As adults, we teach children not to stare at those differ from us. While this is done with the best intentions, it can lead to children not acknowledging those who are different than themselves. It is up to us to lead by example, to be curious about those we may not understand, and to promote inclusion everywhere.

"Do not look at the container, but what is in it" (Pirkei Avot 4:27).

Abby Frantz
Community Access Program Manager
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Services

Posted in Developmental Disabilities Services


Creating Opportunities for Americans with Disabilities

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It is a time to “recognize the achievements of Americans with disabilities whose contributions in the workforce help ensure the strength of our Nation. We also renew our commitment to creating an environment of opportunity for all Americans and educating people about disability employment issues.”

Andrea Taylor and Ben Heinze of Home Depot
Andrea Taylor and Ben Heinze of Home Depot

Through the IndependenceWORKS program, we are committed to supporting the goals of our clients with disabilities - to help these individuals realize their dreams and to integrate them into the community by providing them with developmental supports, a social network, employment and a means of transportation.

We are proud to share several of our supported employment clients at their places of work, as well as comments from their families on what it means to them to hold a job.

Trevor Durrett - Burger King

“Having a job with varying responsibilities has always been important to Trevor, but he's had trouble finding a job that can both utilize his skills and get past his limitations. The manager at Burger King gave him a chance one year ago, and it's working out well. Trevor's confidence has increased and he seems generally happier overall. He is managing his schedule, enjoying the camaraderie at work, and of course, enjoying having money that he earned himself. I think he's even gotten better at managing his money, since it's his alone and not just given to him. Thank you, Burger King, for giving him this opportunity and sticking with him while he learned the ropes!”

  • Jeri Mauldin (mother)
Susan Deale - Hongar Farms

“Susan loves to work at Hongar Farms. Her job gives her independence and teaches her responsibility. Additionally, she looks forward to learning new job functions.”

  • Judith Clapp (mother)

Susan Deale and Todd Hurst of Hongar Farms
Susan Deale and Todd Hurst of Hongar Farms

Todd Besmertnik - Helping Feed Atlanta

“On Wednesdays, Todd “works” for Helping Feed Atlanta. He and their founder, David Skoke, go around and collect leftover fruits and vegetables and sometimes dairy from local Costco & Whole Foods and bring it to food banks and shelters. Todd has been doing this for 2 ½ years.

“David is both a friend and mentor to Todd. Todd and David have formed a close partnership, and it has helped Todd to mature and be a better person. David sometimes does a ‘Todd and David show’ to highlight their HFA activities and the amount of food collected. 1000- 2000 lbs of food is typical each Wednesday.”

  • Sid Besmertnik (father)

Sean Gill and Dion Webster of Tazikis
Sean Gill and Dion Webster of Tazikis

Jackie Bailey - Kroger

“Jackie is a pre-mature triplet who was not as lucky as her brothers. She will be celebrating working at Kroger two years this January. We want to thank Kroger for giving her the opportunity to work in the retail segment. Mr. Fallier (store manager) and Ms. Demantha (manager) embraced the supported employment concept and have been instrumental in giving feedback to JFCS. JFCS has done a great job communicating with Kroger and our family so we a reinforce all feedback at home which has allowed our daughter to focus on continuous improvement. Please express our gratitude to the entire Kroger leadership team.”

  • Karen Bailey (mother)

Jackie Bailey and Damanthe Dulcio of Kroger
Jackie Bailey and Damanthe Dulcio of Kroger

Vandana Sachdeva - Walgreens

“We thank JFCS for leading Vandana to Walgreens. The Walgreens work has made Vandana the confident and happy person that she is today. Walgreens is Vandana’s World. We, the Sachdeva family, extend our heartfelt thanks to Vandana’s Walgreens family for their support and understanding. Thank you again.”

  • Anjana and Mahesh Sachdeva (parents)
Tyler Luciani - The Manor

“Tyler’s first (and so far only) paying job has been at The Manor. He is incredibly proud of his work there and the experience has increased not only his skill set but also boosted his confidence. All of the employees at the manor have been supportive of Tyler and treat him with kindness and respect. Our family is grateful to everyone at the manor for providing such a positive work environment for Tyler.”

  • Sissy Luciani (mother)

David Reynolds - NOVO

“We're very fortunate to have found an employer willing to work with my brother, knowing that if we found the right fit, he could find success. After what felt like years of work instability and worry, It's nice seeing him confident, able to contribute and take care of important things like healthcare and finances with the job from NOVO. I honestly don't know where he would be without this opportunity, so thank you to both NOVO and JFCS for all you do.”

  • TJ Reynolds (brother)

Allison Rosenthal - Weinstein School

“Working for The Weinstein School - and most importantly, the kids at the Weinstein School gives Allison joy and purpose every day. No matter where I go in Atlanta, we bump into families positively impacted by the attention and love Allison gave their child. Her bosses Janice and Kim are also exceptional friends and life-guides for Allison as she continues to navigate work and the community.”

  • Bari Love (sister)

David Bryan - Epstein School

“This is David Bryan’s 4th year working as an employee of the Epstein School after working as a JF&CS Team Works member at the school. We would like to thank The Epstein School, Ms. Jane and her staff for giving David the opportunity to be a part of this team. David’s sense of belonging has reinforced his strengths of dedication, loyalty, and responsibility for everything that happens in his domain. We are so proud of David for having these work ethics. Alan and I are very grateful to the Epstein School for seeing his potential in taking on the daily tasks and helping feed everybody. David is probably the only one in the school sad to see summer vacation begin and the Happiest to see the start of the new school year.”

  • Terrie and Alan Bryan (parents)

Colin Barnett and Danielle Kerns of Target

Colin Barnett and Danielle Kerns of Target


Posted in Developmental Disabilities Services


Brain Health Bootcamp - Strengthen Your Mind and Body!

Brain Health Bootcamp - Strengthen Your Mind and Body!
If you've been recently diagnosed, or are recognizing symptoms of early memory loss, we can help maintain and enhance your memory and brain function.

Our program emphasizes memory enhancement through cognitive stimulation, physical exercise, education, and socialization. You will have the opportunity to connect with others who are experiencing many of the same situations. 

We offer ongoing semesters of eight weekly classes on Thursdays from 3-5 pm at the JF&CS location at 4549 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Atlanta, Ga. 30338.
The cost is $25 per class or $200 per semester (scholarships may be available).
You can RSVP or get more information from Georgia Gunter at 770-677-9421 or

Posted in Developmental Disabilities Services


Gwen Weiss - IDD Volunteer with Flair

Gwen Helping IDD client

Food is life. For adults with disabilities, however, eating and preparing healthy, balanced dishes is tough. 

At Independence WORKS the goal is to help individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities engage in activities that promote independence and improved quality of life. One such activity that is very popular among the attendees are cooking classes - but not just ordinary cooking classes - Adaptive Cooking with Gwen Weiss.

Gwenn Weiss is a private chef who volunteers her time every other Thursday morning with the clients at IndependenceWORKS.

Gwenn develops healthy, adapted recipes that she cooks with our clients. She combines a live cooking show with an interactive class that IndependenceWORKS clients look forward to and thoroughly enjoy.

Gwen IDD 2
Gwenn makes sure to involve every client, no matter the ability. Gwenn develops our clients’ independent living skills as well as their leisure skills with her skill-appropriate cooking classes. When recipes are too advanced, Gwenn Weiss adapts the recipes and creates cooking lessons to adapt to the needs of participants.

For example, we have some clients that only have use of one hand, so Gwenn makes sure to set up specific adapted tasks with that client in mind (ie using special chopping tools/techniques, larger spoons for stirring).

Gwenn makes sure to have every recipe be something clients can make at home and also something that is healthy!

Gwen Cooking Demonstration
Healthy eating is especially important for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Gwen is such an amazing volunteer for ensuring that adults with IDD have the same access to food preparation and healthy eating as anyone else. Thanks, Gwen! 

Posted in Developmental Disabilities Services, Volunteer Services


Volunteer of the Month - Gary Froug

Gary celebrates 1 year of volunteering with JF&CS

Gary Froug JF&CS Volunteer of the MonthGary Froug began volunteering for the Intelectual and Developmental Disabilities Services department in February of 2017. 

Gary is married with two children, a daughter who has recently graduated from college and a son who is currently in college. 

Gary learned about JF&CS through a chance encounter with Rabbi Beiner in 2015. 

In the summer of 2016, he reached out to our Careers department for assistance in a job search.  He and his daughter both attended several Careers workshops and developed relationships with the staff here.

Later, Gary contacted our Volunteer Coordinator, Meredith Lefkoff, to offer his time to any administrative needs the agency may have.

Gary currently volunteers in our office nine hours a week assisting in a variety of tasks including but not limited to auditing client files, confirming service documentation for Medicaid compliance, and managing our staff certifications records.  He also assists us with various financial documentation, drawing on his background in the financial sector. 

Each of our programs benefits from his time and all of our managers and coordinators enjoy seeing Gary in the office.  He took a small hiatus over the holiday months and we are all very glad he is back with us again on his regular schedule. 

Gary is now semi-retired, but open to freelance contract work.  He enjoys spending time with his family, playing golf, running, and helping his daughter care for her new puppy (an exhausting but rewarding job).

Gary shared the following reasons that he enjoys volunteering for JF&CS:

1.     Belief in our organization
2.     Sense of giving back/paying forward
3.     The feeling that he is contributing to and making a difference in our department
4.     The appreciation he receives from the JF&CS staff.

Posted in Developmental Disabilities Services, Volunteer Services


Community Spotlight: Helping Feed Atlanta

Helping Feed Atlanta Spreads Love and Food Across Atlanta

Have you ever wondered what happens to all of the produce at Whole Foods at the end of the day? Does it get thrown out, used for compost, or do employees throw elaborate dinner parties after hours? In February 2012, David Skoke helped answer that question by reaching out to his local Whole Foods Market. What started out as a request for 40 pounds of potatoes, has now grown into an operation that feeds thousands of the homeless and Atlantans in-need.

In just five years, the project has grown from one market to five different Whole Foods markets and three Costco locations. Helping Feed Atlanta collects over 30,000 pounds of food every month with the help of a few dedicated volunteers. 

In addition, Helping Feed Atlanta has also created jobs for capable adults like Todd Besmernick, a young man in our supported employment program. David and Todd have become great friends, and they share videos of their weekly runs to collect healthy produce on their  “van show.” They then distribute the produce to the JF&CS kosher food pantry, and other organizations that help those in-need including Malachi's Storehouse, City of Refuge and The Atlanta Mission.

“We could not do our work without the help of David Skoke and Helping Feed Atlanta for many reasons. Thank you from all of us at JFCS,” said Engagement Coordinator, Sheri Schwartz.

Amy Maslia, intake manager agreed. “We Love to see David's smiling face on Mondays and am thrilled to offer fresh produce to our clients! Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!!”

Helping Feed Atlanta was recently profiled on 11 Alive. You can view the video here: 

Here is a video of David and Todd doing their mobile mitzvahs:

Posted in JF&CS - Hope and Opportunity Happen Here, Developmental Disabilities Services, Volunteer Services


Ask a Professional: Carly Reisman

Carly Reisman, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Coordinator at JFCS AtlantaCarly Reisman is a professional in Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Services at JF&CS. She works with adults with disabilities who would like to gain employment. Carly has a bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Development and a Masters in Special Education from the University of Georgia. She joined JF&CS as a direct support professional in 2015 and became the Employment Services Coordinator in 2016.

Posted in Developmental Disabilities Services


February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month

How IDDS is making hope and opportunity happen

February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, and JF&CS wants to raise awareness of what we do in this arena. Our nonsectarian Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Services (IDDS) offers programs and supports to individuals with a range of disabilities, their families and their caregivers. We follow a person-centered approach to ensure those with disabilities have a hand in directing their services and a voice concerning their future. The programs promote self-determination and the right of those with special needs to choose their own destinies.

Programs and services include Supported Employment, the Zimmerman-Horowitz Independent Living Program, Community Access Services and Alterman/JETS Transportation.

In March, IDDS will be moving into a brand new location right on the JF&CS campus. The building will include a large common space, classrooms, a computer room, an art studio, a sensory room, a teaching kitchen, ADA-compliant bathrooms with showers, a laundry area and full access for wheelchairs with wider hallways and lower counters.

For more information, please call 770-677-9300 or visit


Posted in Developmental Disabilities Services


Supported Employment Brings Confidence and Stability

Supported Employment Brings Confidence and Stability
Gil Berman wants to de-stigmatize mental health issues and treatment. A bright and funny 23-year-old who exudes self-confidence, Gil has Asperger’s syndrome. He also has an anxiety disorder and “some other issues,” including Tourette syndrome, which he learned he had in fourth grade. 

“People would tell me I was so brave to talk about it,” he said. “That always confused me. It feels good to talk about it. Everybody is educated, and everybody wins.”

Written by Sheri Panovka, Posted in Counseling Services, Developmental Disabilities Services


Reflections on the Jewish Leadership Institute on Disabilities and Inclusion

Reflections on the Jewish Leadership Institute on Disabilities and Inclusion


I just returned from the first Jewish Leadership Institute on Disabilities and Inclusion, held December 1st – 5th at the Pearlstone Center outside of Baltimore, MD. It was an incredible gathering of 25 Jewish disability and communal leaders—leaders from the disability field, individuals with disabilities and family members.   We spent more than 12 hours each day learning about the importance of self-determination, individualized person-centered planning and the rights of individuals to determine where they live, with whom they live and how they spend their time. We as Jews understand, and experience through our history, what happens when individuals are dehumanized and their rights are taken away. That still happens for many people with disabilities.


Written by Eve Bogan, Posted in Developmental Disabilities Services




ArtWORKS is back preparing for the “Go Wild” art show which will be held at The Art Institute of Atlanta – Decatur on December 5th, 2013. With more than 50 acrylic-on-canvas works in development, including massive banners depicting wild animals, our clients are as busy as they are excited about this gala event. Clients chose the “Go Wild” theme to honor one of our Tools for Independence TeamWORKS’ partners, ZooAtlanta. Our clients regularly volunteer to support the educational programs sponsored by ZooAtlanta, and recognizing ZooAtlanta through the show creates the opportunity for our clients to give back to the community that supports them. Last year’s show generated more than$2,000 in earnings for the program and our clients, and we are looking forward to setting a new bar at the 2013 show!

Posted in Developmental Disabilities Services


If not now, when?: The Importance of Advocacy in the Disabilities Community

If not now, when?: The Importance of Advocacy in the Disabilities Community

Webster’s Dictionary defines advocacy as “the act or process of advocating or supporting a cause or a proposal”. A more meaningful description of advocacy, however, comes from Rabbi Hillel:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when? (Rabbi Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers 1:14)

So what does advocacy really mean? It is important to stand up for yourself and what you believe in, and it is most important to stand up for fellow members of your community.

Written by Eve Bogan, Posted in JF&CS - Hope and Opportunity Happen Here, Developmental Disabilities Services


Volunteer Spotlight: Ann Kay & Richard DeRossett

Volunteer Spotlight: Ann Kay & Richard DeRossett

Sometime in the early 1980s, right after she moved to Atlanta from her native New York, Ann Kay started volunteering at her children’s school. From there, she moved on to the William Breman Jewish Home and then to Hillel. Finally, she found her way to JF&CS through her husband Michael, a past president of the agency. The Kays started collecting Passover supplies for JF&CS’ Maos program.

Written by Sheri Panovka, Posted in JF&CS - Hope and Opportunity Happen Here, Developmental Disabilities Services, Volunteer Services


My Day of Smiles… Why I Volunteer at the Larry Bregman M.D. Educational Conference

My Day of Smiles… Why I Volunteer at the Larry Bregman M.D. Educational Conference

The Larry Bregman, M.D., Educational Conference is a two-day conference for adults with developmental disabilities, their families and caregivers. It is one of the many events planned in February as a part of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month. The first evening features a dance for the participants, followed by the second day filled with workshops. The workshops emphasize topics such as being part of the community, being a self-advocate and living a healthy lifestyle. This year’s conference, themed “Avenues of Change,” took place February 25-26 at the Selig Center. More than 250 people attended with the help of 50+ volunteers.

Written by Marla Shainberg, Posted in JF&CS - Hope and Opportunity Happen Here, Developmental Disabilities Services, Volunteer Services


When a Month Just Isn't Enough

When a Month Just Isn't Enough

February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month (JDAM). We are pleased to share a blog post from Deborah Greene, wife of Rabbi Fred Greene of Temple Beth Tikvah and the mother of three daughters, the oldest of whom has autism. Deborah is devoted to raising autism awareness, and she shares her family's life on the autism spectrum in “Puzzled: Raising a Child with Autism & Other Pieces of Family Life.” We found her story to be extremely poignant, and we are honored she agreed to be a guest blogger for “The Sharpest Tools in the Shed.”

JF&CS is dedicated to supporting our clients and their families with disabilities, and we are touched  by Deborah’s meaningful words. Even if you are not Jewish, we believe you will find her words meaningful as well.

Written by Deborah Greene, Posted in JF&CS - Hope and Opportunity Happen Here, Developmental Disabilities Services


Volunteer Spotlight: Marla Shainberg

Volunteer Spotlight: Marla Shainberg

JF&CS volunteers have been instrumental to the success of so many of our programs. Each year, they dedicate hours upon hours of their time to meetings, projects, programs and events. This comes from a drive and desire to make a positive impact on the community and to help provide a range of services to those who need them. Marla Shainberg is a shining example of this commitment to JF&CS and the community.

Written by Matt Waldman, Posted in JF&CS - Hope and Opportunity Happen Here, Developmental Disabilities Services, Volunteer Services


You Can Go to Italy, I’d Rather Visit Holland

The Gift of Working with Extraordinary People

You Can Go to Italy, I’d Rather Visit Holland

September is Direct Support Professionals month. We are grateful for all of those workers who care for extraordinary people who may need a little extra help. Thank you for all that you do!

Most people involved in the disability culture are familiar with the essay “Welcome to Holland.” The essay, written in 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley in, the mother of a child with Down Syndrome, sheds light from the perspective of a parent whose child has special needs:

Written by Rena Harris, Posted in Developmental Disabilities Services