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BY Levi

A Special Needs Conference in Review

In the past couple of days, I had the privilege of participating in a wonderful conference in New York City called ADVANCE: The Ruderman Jewish Special  Needs Funding Conference. This conference was put on in partnership with the Jewish Funders Network, the Jewish Federations of North America, and Combined Jewish Philanthropy. Its purpose was to bring representatives of foundations and other Jewish funding sources with an interest in special needs together under one roof. More than 100 people attended from all over the United States and Israel. I was honored with an invitation to participate in one of the roundtable discussions attended by some 30 participants. It was truly heartwarming to see how many of the attendees were aware of the Friendship Circle from their own communities, and I was encouraged by how well our ideas were accepted and appreciated.

One particularly notable conversation was with a woman who was active in the Jewish Federation of New York and had participated at the same round-table as me. She has an adult child on the autism spectrum. She presented about a program that she started to help adults with special needs find meaningful social activities and employment. Her program is primarily funded through her own foundation. She approached me after the meeting and said that her mother had always told her that what her son needed in addition to therapists was a teenage boy to come to play with him and be his friend. She now regrets never having taken her mother’s advice and is thrilled that people going through the same thing have such a resource available to them.

While I had a chance to share what we do at the Friendship Circle, I also had the chance to be inspired by the many talented and dedicated people committed to the cause of helping people with special needs. Each presentation was unique from the perspective of the person presenting and especially touching were the personal stories of how each of these people got involved in the field.

At the closing plenary, all participants heard a passionate and wonderful presentation by our very own Richard Bernstein. Richard spoke about a vow that he made to God in law school – that if he made it through the difficult journey of finishing law school as a blind person, he would dedicate his career to helping people with disabilities. The crowd was inspired by the rest of the story as we all know it here in Michigan.

In his closing remarks, the president of the Jewish Funders Network, Mark Charendoff, mentioned that all great societal changes happen in meeting like these, but not all meetings such as these lead to great societal changes. I believe that as a result of this conference, there is a group that is coming together, headed by Jay Ruderman of the Ruderman Foundation that is committed to taking the energy of this conference and ensuring that it leads to positive change in the field of special needs.


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Written on October 26, 2010 by:

Rabbi Levi Shemtov founded Friendship Circle in 1994. He is actively involved in with Non-profits throughout Metro Detroit.

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