Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey

The Jewish Federation's Shark Tank raised enough money to found the Jewish Abilities Alliance.

The Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey (JFed) includes a family of programming, agencies and supporting organizations that benefit the whole community – and, as Jen Arey was quick to point out, you don’t have to be Jewish to take advantage of them.

“Some of our programs are tailored towards enhancing the Jewish culture, but everyone is welcome in our programs and at our facilities,” Arey, Special Needs Navigator JFed, said. She also mentioned other tailored programs, including for seniors and LGBT+ youth.

Beyond a welcoming atmosphere, the JFed-affiliated Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) and Katz Jewish Community Center (JCC) offer programs and services specifically developed for people with special needs. They offer social, recreational and employment programs open to everyone, including adults over age 21.

The mission of these programs is of personal importance to Arey, whose sons have autism and developmental disabilities. After advocating for their rights and needs, she realized her calling was to help other parents and families do the same.

The JFCS offered 116 recreational events to young adults with special needs over the past year. The JFCS’s paired social programs, Supports to Achieve Independent Living (SAIL) and Social Opportunities and Recreation (SOAR), offer two different levels of support from staff and volunteers to allow people of all ability levels to excel.

“SAIL and SOAR are such valuable programs because they help to build life skills and social skills, which, when paired together, are helpful in becoming more independent,” Arey said, adding that, “Many of our special needs-specific programs are tailored toward supporting adults with developmental disabilities in leading independent, fulfilling lives.”

Other program offerings help adults transition out of high school or into the workplace. The Soups and Sweets six-month vocational training program has grown into a Kosher and Halal-safe catering business. Over 70% of the program’s graduates have found employment in the food and hospitality industry after graduating the program, which also helps students earn a ServSafe certification.

As an approved vendor of supported employment services through the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS) and the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), the JFCS uses a person-first approach to match individuals with jobs suited to their interests and abilities. 145 young adults have found job coaching, vocational placement and mentorship through JFCS this year alone.

“Businesses with inclusive hiring practices find themselves with some of the most dedicated, loyal employees the workforce has to offer when the match is right,” Arey explained. “Some of the most vital parts of these programs are encouraging businesses to hire people with disabilities, and finding the right business match for someone’s abilities, interests and skills.”

 Pictured: Participants at the All Together Now music class's Showcase in May. 

Pictured: Participants at the All Together Now music class's Showcase in May. 


Soon, JFed will expand their offerings into another area adults with special needs are also excluded from: housing.

JFed’s next project for individuals with special needs, The Commons at Springdale, is a housing complex that will be opened on the Federation’s Springdale Road property. The complex will host seniors as well as adults with developmental disabilities, and is set to break ground on July 10.

Lori Sacalis