By Michelle Simon
Atlanta Jewish Foundation Operations Committee

After our middle son Kyle was born, we quickly discovered that he had differing abilities. They were not always visible to others, but it was clear to us that Kyle had unique challenges. We were fortunate to intervene early and provide him with the supportive services he needed along the way. Today at age 24, Kyle has just landed a new job where he is highly valued by his co-workers. Though he lives at home, he is quite independent, and is the heart of our family.

I became a community advocate for people with disabilities not simply for Kyle, but because so many others in our community didn’t have access to these resources. It was tragic to me that they could not access the social skills support, occupational and speech therapy, and inclusion opportunities Kyle had. There are roughly 28,000 families in our Jewish community with disability needs. I try to be a cheerleader for all of them.

Today, I’m thrilled to report that things are changing for the better in Atlanta. The Jewish community is making inclusion a priority. This year, the Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) is one of the Targeted Philanthropy options for Federation’s 2022 Community Campaign, enabling you to direct your gift to disability needs. As a member of the Atlanta Jewish Foundation Operations Committee and Advisory Committee, I’ve urged many friends and community members to join me in using donor-advised funds and legacy gift planning as tools. It’s an effective way to ensure that your philanthropic vision for inclusion will impact generations to come.

The Jewish Abilities Alliance has completed a community-wide disabilities needs assessment. I believe it will be a game-changer. Funded by Federation and several passionate donors, the JAA survey is the basis of a strategic plan to implement the most promising recommendations. Armed with research-based data, we have a blueprint for action. Knowing where there are gaps, we are ready to identify potential partnerships and collaborations and invest in filling as many as we can.

JAA is working alongside community partners to prioritize and implement recommendations from the community study, some of which include: Inclusion of people with disabilities in committees and decision-making processes; An inclusion certification process for Jewish communal organizations; Support for an inclusive trip to Israel; Expanded inclusion training for camps, and for all Jewish educators and synagogue professionals. Ultimately, JAA collaborates with all our community service agencies to create a seamless path of support for families and individuals across the lifespan.

Now, with additional funds we can do more of everything – the possibilities are endless and necessary! Having served on Federation’s Innovation Advisory Committee, I helped bring Innovation’s micro-grant practices to JAA. This year JAA awarded more than $19,000 in mini-grants to support local inclusion projects. These grants have funded things like an automatic door at a synagogue, sensory equipment for classrooms, and accessible shuttle services at community events.

Atlanta Jewish Foundation’s fundholders granted out close to $40 million to support our community last year, some of which supported disabilities.

I take a strategic approach to philanthropy and tikkun olam (repairing the world.) I’m not just about Kyle. I’m about the whole community. This is my calling in life, to focus on disability needs and inclusion, and to discover people’s talents and priorities. We have incredible people here who want Atlanta to be the most welcoming and inclusive community. Together, I know we can do it.