A Rare Jewel of an Agency in My Community and a Great Upcoming Program

I have been meaning to write this post for a very long time. We have a social service agency within my community of Houston that is so extraordinary in serving the needs of anyone and everyone, that it deserves a shout out.

That agency is the Jewish Family Service of Houston. It happens to be led by a dear friend and my neighbor Linda, directly a stone’s throw across the street from me. Linda has taken what was already a good agency before her tenure, and made it into one of the greats that all social service agencies should model themselves after, no matter where they are located. And may I say that as a friend, she is absolutely the sweetest and most giving person, and at work she is a passionate fireball of leadership.

When my elderly parents first relocated here, they were at the ready to assist us in every way possible.

As a more important example, this agency worked on overdrive in meeting the needs of all those flooded in our area of town after the Memorial Day flood. I am not referring only to Jewish victims of the flood, but ALL victims of the flood – religious persuasion was not even a factor in how they served everyone. Working long hours, bringing in extra staff, creating a special office to serve the needs of those who were navigating the slippery slope of insurance/FEMA/homelessness, financial burdens. The leader, again, my neighbor Linda, worked tirelessly along with her staff to make sure each and every person got what they needed, from counseling, to financial assistance, gift cards, meals, etc. More amazing, is that Linda was among the flooded herself – yet she was in a flurry of activity on behalf of everyone else affected. If you read the blog I wrote in the Huffington Post, linked here, you will see the photo I included is of Linda’s home. They too, were devastated by the flood.

What they accomplished just in the flood recovery help they gave is a miracle considering what a small agency they are, and how stretched thin their staff is at any given point in time.

Linda’s caring nature had her worrying about everyone, including me (the blogs I ranted in and expelled all of my emotion into had her even more worried). She worried about everyone except herself, even though she was in the same boat.

I have been privileged to write several stories for the Houston Chronicle, for the Huffington Post, and within my own little blog, about some of the great programs and services of this agency.

One of the greatest things about this agency is their belief that everyone of us is valuable and deserves a quality life – and they do their best to ensure this with a lot of effort in programming for the special needs population. Celebration Company is an exceptional work/social/training program for adults with mental and physical disabilities and you can read more about it in the above linked Chronicle and Huff Post stories.

With physical and mental limitations one of the great passions of this agency, they also coordinate a fabulous event yearly called ReelAbilities. ReelAbilities is the largest festival in the country dedicated to promoting inclusion for people with disiabilities through the arts. The mission of ReelAbilities is to utilize the arts as a vehicle to both educate and change perceptions about individuals living with disabilities. Launched in New York in 2007, Houston is one of 15 cities expanding the festival throughout the country. JFS Alexander Institute for Inclusion, founded by Joan and Stanford Alexander and a division of the JFS Disability Services, is Houston’s host organizer which seeks to foster a community that includes all individuals by eliminating the stigma associated with disabilities. Lead support is provided by The Bristow Group and TIRR Memorial Hermann (Founding Partner). The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities is a key collaborator for the festival along with over 50 community organizations.

The Houston component includes all sorts of events, an art show, dance, musical performances,and all sorts of films about all kinds of disabilities from mental illness and mental disabilities to physically handicapping conditions and highlights the best of what humans are capable of, no matter what the disability. They also go from school to school educating children on acceptance of diversity and to teach children to understand disabilities.

I am excited to be going to be going to ReelPeople: UP Abilities that will feature extraordinary thought leaders on mental and physical disabilities and topics of inclusion:  Speakers include: Winter Snowboard winning athlete Kevin Pearce (Topic: Surviving and Thriving: Life after the Crash), Eleanor Longden (Topic: Learning from the Voices in My Head) – a psychological researcher who herself experienced mental illness; and America’s Got Talent star Drew Lynch (Topic: Embrace Life Event When it Throws You a Curveball). Interestingly, after he became a nationally known comic, Lynch developed a stutter.

I know I will be so inspired by this as I always am by their programming – to have more compassion, to fight through adversity, and to be a strong person even when I feel weak.

We are so lucky in Houston to benefit from the enormously important work that the Jewish Family Service does here. Feel free to add your thoughts in comments.

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