The J-Cares community was established in January 2017 by the leadership of the JCC under the guidance of Ellie Willoughby, JCC Director of Special Services. J-Cares is the Adult Intern Program that Provides Social and Recreational Opportunities to adults with Special Needs, Autism and Developmental Disabilities. The objective is to provide meaningful structured programming that promotes a feeling of independence and value. Interns are supported/mentored by trained staff and participate in an array of social and recreational activities, including cooking, swimming, exercise, yoga, arts and crafts, activities of daily living, music therapy, art therapy, current events, computer skills, games and more. In the summer, interns participate in recreational activities at JCC Camp Ruach, the JCC’s summer day camp.
The Greatest Art Show was created under the direction of Sydney Melnick, MPS Art Therapist on staff at the JCC. Ms. Melnick coordinated with J-Cares Mentors who work with the interns on a one-to-one basis to develop art therapy interventions by focusing on each intern’s strengths, and also challenging them through the use of art materials by exploring topics such as identity, identifying emotions and discussing personal experiences.
According to Ms. Melnick, “Art therapy is an integrated approach using art and psychology for clinical therapists to develop specific goals according to the individual’s needs. The JCC wanted to share the interns’ artwork with the public as we further develop community participation. We are spreading awareness to educate and advocate, but most importantly, we are giving the interns the opportunity to have a voice and be heard, and to break the stigma about people with disabilities.”
The feedback from J-Cares’ family members was filled with joy, including the following comments from parent Betsy Zalaznick, “The Greatest Art Show was a remarkable showcase of the interns’ artistic talents guided by JCC staff, Sydney Melnick and the mentors. Equally as powerful as the display of the diverse multi-media artwork was the electricity in the ‘gallery’.”
Parent Carol Croll stated, “What a wonderful exhibit! We laughed, cried and shared our pride in the many ways our family members expressed their feelings, hopes and dreams. Most importantly, we watched how they mingled independently and enjoyed the community experience of the Art Exhibition! Special thanks to Ellie (Willoughby), Sydney (Melnick) and all the mentors!”