MAITLAND, Fla. – Inside the auditorium at the Jewish Community Center in Maitland, nine young adults with special needs sat alongside their parents, scattered at tables around the room. Next to them were their new employers, local business owners and managers who’ve volunteered to take on and teach and guide the young adults for the next year.
The meet-and-greet was almost like an orientation before the first day of school.
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The young adults—the students—chatted nervously with their employers, excited and anxious about the new opportunities.
For many of them it will be the first time in their young lives they’ve ever had a job. For the next year they will learn how to do that job and how to keep that job, through the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando and a program called R.A.I.S.E., created by founder and director Loren London.
“R.A.I.S.E.—recognizing abilities and inclusion of special employees—fosters a culture of acceptance and respect,” London said.
London brought the students, families and employers together, as she does every year, to kick off a new year of R.A.I.S.E. and a new start for the young adults, many of whom have struggled to maintain employment.
“It’s very, very exciting because we have all new employees, their families, volunteer job coaches, work site liaisons who are representatives from our nine partnering agencies,” London said. “And all of them show up and get to meet one another and it’s just the highlight of the year.”
For more than a decade, London, through the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, has been connecting the young adults with employers and special educators.
“These are pretty much young adults who have not had the opportunity to work and to feel the dignity that comes with that and to earn a paycheck,” London said.
Amazon recently announced a partnership to hire R.A.I.S.E. graduates:
Rachel Slavkin is the R.A.I.S.E. Inclusion Director.
“We work with what has typically been a marginalized population and we give them a place where they know they are valued and accepted,” Slavkin said. “These are neuro-diverse individuals who will be entering our work and social skills training program. They got to meet their new job coaches who will be volunteering to work with them and their work-site liaisons, people on the job site also there to help them.”
For the next 12 months, three days per week, the R.A.I.S.E. students will learn social skills and work skills while working. The goal is long-term employment, like 100 R.A.I.S.E. graduates for the past 10 years.
“I do believe that we’re all here to make the world a better place,” London said. “I think what we’re doing is one small piece of that.
The new students are from all over the community and of all faiths. Anyone can apply. R.A.I.S.E. accepts nine people per year out of roughly 50 applications.
R.A.I.S.E. has been based in Maitland but is now expanding to Southwest Orlando and looking for volunteer job coaches in that area to work with those with a disability and teach them how to become a successful employee.
“One in five people have a disability so we know that 20% of our population is living with the disability,” Slavkin said. “So we know there are people certainly in the Southwest Orlando community that would benefit from R.A.I.S.E.”
Those interested in applying as either a student or volunteer can learn more and apply here.
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