Danielle Wiltchik, M.S., the new coordinator of the Center for Special Needs at Jewish Federation & Family Services, knows what it means to have a disability. She was diagnosed with one in graduate school.
Wiltchik was motivated to get licensure in mild/moderate special needs education in Colorado, and the No Child Left Behond Act enabled her to go back and get a degree in severe cognitive special education. After meeting her husband on JDate and moving to California, Wiltchik taught in the Capistrano Unified School District and Tarbut V’Torah and worked with the Brit Tikvah program for special needs at Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot.
Now Wiltchik is working to bring everything together under the umbrella of the Center for Special Needs – to centralize all of the services for children and adults with disabilities. According to the website, “The mission of the JFFS Center for Special Needs is to increase the quality of life of people with disabilities. We empower individuals with disabilities, as well as families, caregivers and professionals, with knowledge, strategies and support.”
As Terri Moses of JFFS explained, “It’s a one-stop shop for everything people with disabilities need.” There are free parent and professional workshops, projects to assist youth with disabilities to access mainstream community programs, social skills groups for children and youth from kindergarten through high school, client consultations, IEP/IFSP advocacy programs, home to school liaisons, and congregational to community connections, as well as information, resource and referral services.
“The Jewish community of Orange County has so much to offer,” Wiltchik said. “Congregations have opened their doors to embracing children and adults with disabilities, and there are many other programs around the county. Some of the synagogues are changing the way they do religious school, with multi-age and multi-ability groupings.”
Moses added, “There’s a large database of organizations, including the Friendship Circle, the Jeremiah Society, JASON, Brit Tikvah, individual congregations and non-Jewish organizations that Jewish families are involved with. Now we can help all of these people to expand their knowledge base and data, bring together all of the resources involved and give parents so many options that they no longer feel isolated. We can also help organizations to know what other organizations are doing.”
The Center for Special Needs will be working with families to provide a referral system and special skills groups, according to Wiltchik. It will help them to locate licensed therapists, social workers, psychologists, tutors and teachers.
For instance, if someone has Asperger’s Syndrome and, thus, has trouble forming relationships, the center will find the resources to help the person expand his repertoire of language and engage in natural banter. That, in turn, will help the person to form relationships, then go to college and eventually find a job.
“We bring in multidisciplinary teams,” Wiltchik explained. “Identification of a problem can be expensive, and we would hone in on that.”
The Center for Special Needs will also work with the Friendship Circle to include special needs children in mainstream camps. Teens would shadow these children at camp. Wiltchik would work with both the camp and the teens to train them in what Moses described as “a perfect marriage.”
In addition, Wiltchik knows that the needs of the special population change over time, and the center will have answers for that. There will be educational therapy, transitional services, life skills programs and housing services to help parents to navigate pathways as their needs grow and change.
“Through the older adult department and special services department, we have identified so many special needs people who have aging parents or parents who have just passed away,” Moses said. “We’re connecting with the siblings or finding other options and creating a feeling of partnership.”
On Wednesday, September 21, at 7 p.m. at the Samueli Jewish Campus, the Center for Special Needs at the Jewish Federation & Family Services will hold a special program for parents and professionals. The center invites the public to learn from Carol Clark, executive director, The Prentice School and Adjunct Professor, University of San Diego, about dysgraphia and written language.
Dysgraphia, a deficiency in the ability to write, primarily in terms of handwriting, [but perhaps also in terms of coherence, occurs regardless of the ability to read and is not due to intellectual impairment. It may be associated with trauma, and the person may have other learning disabilities.
The program is the culmination of a series held during the summer. Previous programs have included “Understanding Dyslexia,” “What Is in Your Jewish Genes?” and “Special Needs Trusts: Everything You Ever Needed to Know.”
Wiltchik knows there is a lot to do and she welcomes the challenge. “When you have the passion, you can never get tired of it,” she said.
For more information, contact Danielle Wiltchik, coordinator, Center for Special Needs, Jewish Federation & Family Services, at (949) 435-3460.