Pozez JCC’s Inclusion and Disability Services: Fostering Skills for Individuals with Disabilities

Federation partner Pozez JCC of Northern Virginia offers many opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop physical and social skills. Their programs feature small participant-staff ratios and offerings such as social groups, recreation programs, cooking, and much more. We spoke with Jessica Tischler, Pozez JCC’s Inclusion and Disability Services Director, to learn more about their programs and the impact Pozez is making in the community.

What does it mean to Pozez JCC to be inclusive to people with disabilities?  

Being inclusive means providing opportunities for engagement so that everyone has the ability to participate if they choose. It means welcoming them with open arms where they can feel welcomed, appreciated, and respected. It also means providing education for the community about the importance of inclusion and showing them what it means to be inclusive.   

We offer programming to meet the participants where they are and help them to gain comfort in social settings. Our social skills classes, workshops, and social clubs are reflective of the needs of the community. Some people are able to join right in, some utilize our wonderful volunteers and staff, and others attend with a support person until they are comfortable attending independently. The participants are warm and welcoming to each other and we’ve watched people make their first friends, have a friend group, and build relationships.   

Tell us about what it means to individuals with disabilities and their families when you create and maintain an inclusive environment?  

It means the world to have a place of belonging and security, and that they can feel comforted in the fact that their authentic self is welcomed, appreciated, and respected.  

Tell us about a particular moment you and your colleagues are proud of in regard to inclusion in the past year?  

We are so proud of our camp! We have built an opportunity for families at Camp Achva to feel comfortable sending their children, where we address their social, emotional, and overall well-being, and where the campers can just be themselves! 

Because camp has been successful for so many years, we are excited to announce that this summer, we are piloting a new camp called Camp Kesher (Connection) for teens (rising 11th-12th graders), young adults, and adults. Camp Kesher will give campers the opportunity to make new friends and gain confidence through success in fun activities, in a caring, friendly, and supportive environment. Each week will also include a variety of field trips to explore and experience all that Greater Washington has to offer.  We are proud to be able to offer this new and unique opportunity for the Northern Virginia region. 

What challenges, if any, has Pozez JCC faced during the pandemic to keep people engaged? 

At first, the main challenge we faced was that all of our services stopped, but we quickly transitioned to a virtual platform to offer our services online. We also added some programming virtually! For individuals who were able to access the virtual platform, it was a godsend to be able to connect with others from home. It was nice to be able to see so many people weekly—some multiple times a week! — whereas before, we might have only seen people monthly. People were also able to build relationships that they didn’t have before, and we were able to serve constituents from other areas that might not have been able to travel to participate in our programming previously. The support amongst the staff was key to being able to continue pivoting and providing virtual programming. It was a quick learning curve and we all learned together.  

Another challenge we faced was reaching people in the community that were unable to access the virtual platform. We have now begun programming in the hybrid world, so we are offering programs both in-person and virtual. 

What additional support do you provide to families and their children?
As a department, we keep an updated list of therapies, groups, employment opportunities, and more to share with families who are looking for additional support. We also pride ourselves on building relationships and strong communication with the participants and their families. We will also speak with teachers and therapists so that we can best meet the needs of our participants when they are accessing programs.  

Explore disability inclusion opportunities.