Editor's Note: This month, the Ruderman Family Foundation awarded five prizes to agencies across the world that are making the Jewish community into a more inclusive one. The New Normal will profile each of these amazing agencies over the next month.
JewishCare’s Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) Program mentors Jewish children and young adults who may be facing challenges and adversity in their lives. Based in Sydney, the program helps these youth, about a third of whom have a disabilitiy, through the ongoing support and friendship of a big brother/sister mentor. JewishCare has developed strong links with local schools, synagogues and community groups to raise awareness about issues facing young people with a disability, and about the importance of their inclusion into mainstream services.
JewishCare staff members speak at local Jewish high schools about the BBBS program, and about how having a positive mentor can make a big difference for all kids, including those with a disability.
They inform rabbis in Syndney’s 40,000-member Jewish Community about the program. JewishCare also established a new Jewish interagency, which includes a range of programs and organizations that are working with children and young people, including programs for children with disabilities. The aim is to share and exchange information.
Warren Hurst, executive officer of JewishCare, described one particular young person whose life has been transformed by participating in BBBS.
Josh, he said, is 25 years old and moved from Byron Bay to Sydney with his mother and sister 3 years ago. Josh is on the autism spectrum and just prior to moving to Sydney, he experienced a psychotic episode, which was scary and worrying for him. It made the move to Sydney unsettling as he was not sure how he would adjust, and what support he may have once he arrived. Soon after he arrived, he was introduced to a caseworker from the Mentoring Program at JewishCare. At the time, Josh was withdrawn and expressing anxiety about his new life in Sydney. Josh was interested in being linked with a mentor as he didn’t know anyone in Sydney and felt is would be good to have someone to hang out with.
JewishCare linked Josh with Gary, a volunteer mentor who wanted to give back in a meaningful way. Gary and Josh met up every other week for about a year. Gary helped Josh find his way around Sydney, and they looked forward to each outing. They would meet for coffee, go to the movies, bookstores and music stores. Over time, their relationship strengthened, and Josh started to feel he had someone he could trust and talk to. He enrolled in a Digital Media course and started to make a few friends. Eighteen months after they met, Gary noticed so many positive changes with Josh. He appeared happier, more engaged, and certainly living a busier life.
Josh has come a long way since JewishCare first met him three years ago. He has completed his course, had a stint working for an advertising company, and has a few close friends whom he sees regularly. He recently started working part-time at a restaurant. Josh has come full circle, and is now a mentor in the program, working with a young adult with a disability.
To Hurst, Josh's story is wonderful validation of the benefits of mentoring. Through the friendship, consistency and trust of an older, wiser mentor, a person’s self esteem, confidence and life skills can be greatly enhanced, making it possible for them to achieve things they once may not have imagined, he said.
When Hurst learned about the award, he felt a mixture of gratitude and pride for the agency. Currently, the agency is working on a short video to share the impact of the BBBS program for young people who have disabilities.
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