Charity Spotlight: Gesher Disability Resources

Share
Posted By on February 25, 2021

Gesher Disability Resources

Supporting individuals with special needs in the Jewish community and their families so they can lead fuller lives

Organization:

Gesher Disability Resources

Leadership:

Executive director: Amy Hummell

Board co-chairs: Wendy Horwitch and Nora Schaefer

Annual Budget:

$448,000

Origin:

Formed in 1985 as the Council for Jews With Special Needs, this agency was created to meet the special needs of children and adults with disabilities who were unable to participate in typical activities of Jewish life in greater Phoenix. The original programs were for special education assistance and summer camp inclusion. These were followed by support groups for parents, grandparents and siblings, an active disability awareness outreach program, information and referral services, and sign language interpreters in Jewish settings.

The agency changed its name in 2017 to Gesher Disability Resources, to reflect more accurately the programs and services offered. Gesher is Hebrew for “bridge,” a word that brought the vision of creating bridges to bring all communities together. Today’s agency is all about inclusion in the classroom and in the community, growth of its programs and membership, and bringing together the worlds of the disabled and the typical.

Gesher Disability Resources serves children and adults affected by a disability through inclusion assistance in the classroom, resource referral, residential support and social groups. The agency now engages a larger percentage of the disability community and benefits more than 3,000 individuals through its events and services.

Volunteer who makes a difference: Gesher is blessed to have many creative, generous and loyal volunteers. One example is Mari Jenefsky-Titus. After attending her first Gesher fundraising gala, Jenefsky-Titus offered to help promote the event. After attending her second gala, she presented an idea to bring some friends who traveled in a singing group after college together to write a theme song for Gesher. It was something new that took advantage of the online world of 2020. The result is “Build a Bridge,” all thanks to Jenefsky-Titus’ creative idea and friends.

Known for: Over the years, the agency added social groups and continuing Jewish studies for teens and adults with moderate to severe disabilities as well as educational forums on disability-related topics and two supervised Jewish homes for adults with developmental disabilities. A monthly Sabbath morning service called “Simchat Shabbat” that was added to the program list won the Belle Latchman Community Service Award in 2008 and won again in 2018 for Gesher Model Seder. In 2015, the agency was accepted as a Qualifying Charitable Organization (QCO) for the State of Arizona’s tax credit program.

Employee VIP: Gesher’s longest-serving employee is Jill Wilson, director of education and programs. While Gesher has had great success with weekly ZOOM Rooms and Sunday Game Days, not all Gesher members have internet access. Others do not feel comfortable going online. So Gesher has offered individual sessions to review how to get onto a ZOOM call, but the challenge of anxiety is sometimes too strong.

Challenges during COVID-19: The biggest challenge has been keeping Gesher members and their families safe while providing social group opportunities. The answer was moving programming online. While Gesher has had great success with weekly ZOOM Rooms and Sunday Game Days, not all Gesher members have internet access. Others do not feel comfortable going online. So Gesher has offered individual sessions to review how to get onto a ZOOM call, but the challenge of anxiety is sometimes too strong.

Fun fact: 2021 is Gesher Disability Resources’ 36th anniversary. In the Jewish community, the number 18 is “Chai” which translates “To Life.” That makes this year “Double-Chai,” which is a special milestone for the organization.

To learn more, go to gesherdr.org.

Karen Werner

About Karen Werner

Karen Werner is the editor of Frontdoors Media. She is a writer, editor and media consultant. She has interned at The New Yorker, worked at Parents Magazine, edited five books and founded several local magazines. Her work has appeared in Sunset, Mental Floss and the Saturday Evening Post.