Program Profile

Impact Feature Issue on Faith Communities and Persons with Developmental Disabilities

The Greater Washington Jewish Community:
A Community-Wide Response to Inclusion


Cathy Silberman is Senior Planning Associate with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, D.C. She can be reached at

For over 25 years the Greater Washington Jewish Community has been a leader in creating a caring community that welcomes, supports, and provides services to individuals with disabilities and their families. Historically, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has served as the community planning body and was one of the first Federations to address and consider a communal response to the needs of area Jews with disabilities. In a pioneering effort in 1978, the Federation undertook a comprehensive study to ascertain the extent and nature of the needs of individuals with disabilities. The study recommended that the community adopt an integrated, interagency approach for the delivery of services to persons with dis- abilities and their families, to ensure a continuum of service from birth to adulthood. This interagency coordination of services was formalized through the creation of the Parallel Professional Advisory Committee (PPAC) for Special Needs, an interagency professional committee operating under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and staffed by the Federation’s planning department. PPAC members include supervisory and programmatic agency professionals responsible for delivering and supervising services to special needs populations. Some of the agencies represented are: the Board of Jewish Education, the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, the three area Jewish Community Centers, the Jewish Information and Referral Service, the Jewish Social Service Agency, Hillel of Greater Washington, and the Washington Board of Rabbis.

The PPAC has been meeting bimonthly for over 20 years to brainstorm, share resources, and work collaboratively on behalf of the community’s special needs population. One of its first efforts was to develop an outline for a continuum of services that are now provided by a consortium of agencies. Services include family support, ongoing testing and consultative services, screening programs, a community supplementary school, teacher training, professional resource teams, socialization programs, youth groups, camping, and residential group homes/apartments.

As a professional/interagency consortium, the PPAC strives to identify those unmet communal needs that are beyond the capacity of any one agency to fulfill, but when addressed holistically, provide a continuum of care that benefits the entire community. PPAC recommendations for new services are considered by the appropriate agency for inclusion in their budget. The following represents examples of successful collaborative efforts by the PPAC:

  • The PPAC for Special Needs applied for and secured funding from the Federation’s Endowment Fund in 2000 for a Jewish Community Newsletter –Kesher Connection– published three times a year, featuring Jewish community events, and courses and programs for individuals with special needs. It is mailed to all people using the special needs services offered by Jewish Community agencies and synagogues. Additionally, copies are distributed via agency special lists, local synagogues, therapist’s offices, schools and other places that work with individuals with special needs. A total of 2000 copies are disseminated.
  • Funding from the Federation’s Endowment Fund was also awarded in 2000 for creation of a Jewish Community Web site for individuals with special needs. The Web site constitutes a complete listing for the community of all relevant programs. Its goal is to enhance community awareness and provide a one-stop place for all community information regarding individuals with special needs.
  • The Jewish Foundation for Group Homes was created 20 years ago, in part as a result of the PPAC’s recommendation. It now operates 18 group homes for four to five residents each, as well as numerous apartments, serving a wide range of individuals with disabilities. Residents receive vocational training, are integrated into their communities, and have the opportunity to participate fully in local Jewish activities.

The Greater Washington Jewish Community has been successful in providing a seamless continuum of services to the special needs community, in part because of the success of the PPAC structure. By affording opportunities for professionals to meet, network, and share planning ideas and resources in a neutral, positive setting, the PPAC promotes and facilitates interagency cooperation and service coordination. It also serves as a vehicle for community evaluation of programs and services, and as a catalyst for community forums and workshops. The Federation’s ongoing involvement and support provide a broad communal picture, maximize distribution of resources, and ensure the integration of Jewish values into support for persons with disabilities and their families.