February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM). Each Friday in February, MY Jewish Buffalo’s community spotlight will introduce you to an individual who embodies the values of JDAAIM. This is a project of the Center for Jewish Engagement and Learning’s Belonging Initiative. Thank you to Vickie Rubin (featured in our February 5 issue) who submitted this piece about Kelly Special.
Our daughter and her housemates live in the only Jewish Group Home in Buffalo. I would like to tell you about Kelly Special, LPN, the manager of this home. No pun intended, but Kelly’s last name describes her perfectly. Her dedication, devotion, skill, experience, and knowledge separate her from others; it’s what makes her special.
A recent text from Kelly sums it up. “You don’t have to thank me. This is my job. Even on the worst day, I am blessed to be here with these ladies, and it means enough just that I can make a positive impact.”
Kelly is not Jewish, yet she embraces and respects the culture of the five Jewish women who live in the house. On top of all the other responsibilities, including ensuring the house runs smoothly and maintaining the ladies’ health and wellness, she supports the women’s cultural traditions. A latke, menorah, or Shabbat were not part of the staff’s upbringing; it’s a learning curve added to all the other unique needs of the women at the house.
A recent example was Hanukkah. Each year, Kelly and the families co-host a festive party at the house, including food, music, candle lighting, and Jewish customs. This year was going to be a bit of a challenge. Due to Covid-19, the women cannot have visitors. Sadly, families cannot enter the house. How were they going to celebrate Chanukkah amidst a Pandemic?
I received a text from Kelly describing her plans. “We are doing eight nights of gifts and eight nights of Jewish foods. I ordered Chanukkah cookies. The house is decorated. One staff member read about Chanukkah and created enrichment activities for the women.” She later told me that another staff member came on her day off to bring a specialty Channukah dinner. The extra effort to create a Jewish home is not easy. None of the staff grew up celebrating Jewish Holidays, yet they were all on board to celebrate.
Before Covid-19, the Jewish Group Home hosted a monthly community program with volunteers from Temple Beth Tzedek. Jewish individuals who receive services and non-disabled peers and temple members were invited from our local area.
Our daughters are included in Temple activities, attend religious functions, and currently zoom with Temple members to participate in religious ceremonies. The families are grateful that our daughters are embraced in the Jewish community.
We are also so thankful to the Center for Jewish Engagement, Learning, and Yonina Foster for continuing monthly Miriam’s Well Programs during the pandemic over zoom. These monthly programs allow the women to live and learn Jewishly with their family and friends.
February is Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. I appreciate the opportunity to share a bit about the wonderful activities and beautiful memories created every day at the People Inc. home, where our daughter and her friends live. The staff’s dedication and respect for our daughters are successful because of Kelly’s leadership and the exceptional people she chooses to work with our daughters.
CJEL’s Belonging vision is for all Jews, their friends and Life partners of other faiths, and people exploring Judaism to feel welcome to participate in Jewish living and learning experiences to the extent of their abilities and interest, and to find a space of belonging in Jewish Buffalo regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ability.