Marks JCH Leading the Way in Serving Young Adults With Special Needs

By Gelena Blishteyn
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Marks JCH continues to be a leader in providing accessible and inclusive services in south Brooklyn, increasing our outreach to young adults with special needs. A recent award of a new grant through New York City will enable the agency to deepen our service to this most vulnerable population. Too often, in emigre communities such as those found throughout south Brooklyn, having a child with special needs is stigmatized, leaving families feeling isolated and ashamed. Our work at the J in this arena over the past decade has been to reduce the isolation, eliminate the stigma, and create a welcoming atmosphere in which children and young adults with special needs find their second home at the J, and their parents get the much-needed support to be able to help their children thrive. Our programs integrate youth development, social and emotional learning, and academic skill building for youth and young adults, partnering with local schools and community based agencies, all while fostering parental engagement. To augment these services, the Marks JCH’s Parent Support Center provides wrap-around supportive services based on the agency’s “360 degree,” holistic program model of providing supports to the whole client and the whole family. This includes: ongoing advocacy and support for families and caregivers through the Marks JCH’s social worker and mental health counselor; a resource center that provides information and referrals to services both inside and outside of the Marks JCH (e.g. legal assistance, job placement, entitlement assistance); help with applying for public benefits; semi-annual family/caregiver workshops focused on the challenges of raising a child with disabilities; a peer support group facilitated by the Marks JCH mental health counselor; and, family weekend programs that will enable families to connect with one another and with the community in safe and structured settings. A recent Brooklyn Connect participant, Ryan (not his real name), came to the program with the expressed goals of making new friends, keeping up with his classes as he transitioned from high school to college, and getting a job, with the dream of being able to apply his love of technology by working in a cellphone store. With emigre parents who are struggling to keep up with their own needs and jobs, support from the J was most important to Ryan’s transition to adulthood. Ryan was assigned a mentor, and met regularly with the Inclusion Coordinator, helping him to integrate socially with the other members of the Brooklyn Connect program. According to Ryan, being part of Brooklyn Connect has enabled him to keep up with his studies, to “maintain a balanced social life,” and to work with a job developer toward demonstrating the skills needed to be able to get a job. He has accomplished two of his three goals, and shared the following words in honor of his fellow participants:

One Step Closer

This moment is where I reached past my limit

This day is what I accomplished so far

This minute keeps smiles growing

This second will determine that I am one step closer

Nothing can change what I had been going through

Once my path is chosen to build on bigger things

Feel blessed to actually live this moment

Right where I stand to be one step closer

I keep writing to share my thoughts and expressions

Sometimes about the deep passion to see why I am here today

Facing English was the best move to overcome my fears

Slowly falling to become one step closer

As long as the love within someone is approaching

While the clear blue skies reaches a blooming start

No matter how many obstacles I have to beat

The success that I obtained made me one step closer.”

Support for Ryan and others like him is crucial to helping the children of emigres to be able to make it in America, with the added struggle of special needs. Removing the stigma, offering increased support, and customizing the approach to serve their particular needs, the J is proud to be able to help this group of clients and members to achieve their own American Dream.

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