Innovation Station

The JCC offers special needs programming year round.
The JCC offers special needs programming year round.

Baltimore has landed itself, once again, on the list innovators.

Last week when “The Slingshot 2013-2014 Guide” was released, two area organizations, the Pearlstone Center and the Jewish Community Center, both agencies of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, made the list of North America’s Top 50 innovative Jewish organizations. This is the third year Pearlstone has made the list.

Selected from among hundreds of finalists reviewed by 83 professionals with expertise in grant-making and Jewish communal life, the guide called Pearlstone “Baltimore’s vibrant Jewish farming community. The Pearlstone Center is successful in introducing its ideas to a wide range of audiences by being interwoven with a retreat center. … It is extremely innovative and continues to push the envelope in the Jewish eco-justice field.”

The JCC was recognized for its efforts to include and provide for people with special needs.

Approximately 25 years ago, the JCC began providing social programs on a monthly basis for Jewish adults with disabilities. These options included a special needs Passover Seder and an inclusion program at its camp. Today, the JCC’s special needs programming includes year-round social and recreational programming, new vocational programs and an after-school childcare inclusion program. Approximately one year ago, the JCC added to its portfolio the Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance, which includes a parent-to-parent network for parents of children with physical, mental or emotional challenges. The JCC is serving around 130 children, teens and adults with a variety of special needs throughout the year.

According to Stacy Israel, director of special needs services for the JCC, BJAA is already being seen as a national model. The BJAA website provides the largest resource directory in Maryland.

Israel said that while caring for people with special needs is “core to our mission” at the JCC, it is in the last handful of years that the JCC has more than doubled the variety of programs available for this population. Israel said the need for special needs programming has increased, too. Today, she noted, one in 88 children is born with autism. And that is just one example.

“We realized we had to step up our game,” she said, “and have more programs to accommodate the rise in disabilities.”

Organizations included in this year’s guide were evaluated on their innovative approach, the impact they have in their work, the leadership they have in their sector and their effectiveness at achieving results.

“‘The Slingshot Guide’ is an essential resource for putting a national spotlight on inspiring work happening in local communities across North America,” said Julie Finkelstein, program director of Slingshot. “Highlighting organizations throughout the Baltimore-metro area is a testament to the community’s commitment to building and sustaining engaging, relevant and impactful Jewish opportunities. Through ‘Slingshot,’ members of our national network of doers and donors learn about Baltimore’s inspiring stories, and Baltimoreans of all ages are introduced to some of the most innovative Jewish opportunities happening in their own backyards. ‘Slingshot’ is proud to partner with many area organizations, foundations and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore to support Baltimore’s successful drive toward Jewish innovation.”

Of the 50 “Slingshot” groups, the average founding year is 2005 and the average annual budget is $717,320. Women lead 52 percent of the group. The book is available in hard copy and as a free download.

In a separate celebration, Jakir Manela, executive director of the Pearlstone Center, was recently named a recipient of the Jewish Communal Service Association’s Young Professional Award. Manela will accept this award in Jerusalem at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly on Nov. 10.

“We are on the cutting edge of Jewish innovation, led by a dynamic and visionary director,” said Pearlstone Board Chair Ilene Vogelstein. “Our mission is to ignite Jewish passion, and I am proud to say we are doing that.”

View the full list of “Slingshot” winners here.

See related article: The Slingshot Effect

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