Staff Q&A: Inclusion Program Manager Stacey Spencer
How long have you worked at JFCS and what roles have you held?
I just started my 15th year working at JFCS and it is a milestone anniversary that I am very proud of! I began my work journey as the first home visitor hired for the ParentChild+ Program, and it was so exciting getting to be a part of it and watch it grow and flourish from the beginning to the amazing program it is today. After that, I became the Coordinator of JFCS Volunteer Events, then the Caring Connections Coordinator, and finally the JFCS Inclusion Program Manager—whew!
What is Caring Connections?
Caring Connections is a JFCS program that provides valuable opportunities for people with disabilities to participate fully in Jewish life. It leads the Twin Cities Jewish community in becoming a more inclusive and welcoming space, where all people with disabilities have the opportunity to participate in Jewish educational, spiritual, social and recreational activities. Our goal is to provide programming to our participants that adds value to their lives and welcomes them into our Jewish community.
How are volunteers involved in Caring Connections?
We utilize volunteers from around our Jewish community in several ways, beginning with the Jewish Accessibility Inclusion Collaborative (JAIC). JAIC is comprised of volunteers representing synagogues and Jewish organizations from around the Twin Cities. We come together to support each other in creating a full path for Jewish inclusion for all.
Additionally, volunteers are always instrumental in creating and supporting highly successful in-person events for Caring Connections, such as the annual Tybie Proman Caring Connections Passover Seder, Art from the Heart, and Bake and Take Challah event, to name a few. Caring Connections participants really enjoyed receiving hand-made cards from community volunteers who have participated in Cards for the Community (contact Dana Shapiro at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about this project and receive specific card-making instructions), which began during the pandemic and has helped ease their isolation.
What do you love about your job?
Where do I begin? I think what really speaks to me is our tagline, “Here for all. Always.” Not only do I get to help support Jewish people with disabilities, but also their family members and their other loved ones too. I am passionate about the advocacy work I get to do to help our community to be inclusive, welcoming, and on the path so everyone can participate in being Jewish. Lastly, it is an honor to work for JFCS and I really identify with our mission statement!
What are some things you have heard from Caring Connections participants about their experience with JFCS?
To say that Caring Connections members love JFCS is an understatement. They deeply appreciate and enjoy the Jewish and social Caring Connections events they attend. They are also thankful for the opportunity of having a personal home visits with me and receiving Chanukah presents and High Holiday treats. During the pandemic, we are all feeling isolated and to be able to have a time that the Caring Connections members can be supported either virtually or in-person is instrumental for them.
What are some things you have heard from Caring Connections volunteers about their experience with JFCS?
Here are some quotes that we received from volunteers who helped with our first in-person event since the pandemic began that happened back in August. We are also fortunate to have a volunteer who now calls me every month to see if there is an upcoming Caring Connections event she can add to her calendar – how nice is that?!
“I had so much fun on Sunday! I loved watching and listening to the people that were there enjoying themselves. I loved the interaction with them and watching them interact with each other. I loved helping! Thank you for including me. I appreciate it so much.”
“Very fun yesterday. Thank you Dana and Stacey for including me in!”
“I really enjoyed volunteering for this event! I loved seeing the attendees so happy to see each other and they really seemed to enjoy making the challah and enjoying the entire event. They all seem so bonded and so respectful of one another. Stacey is such a good leader. I loved when we all sang together and I especially loved when one of the participants played his harmonica. I really enjoyed getting to know some of the participants. I also loved hearing Rabbi Davis talk, and all of the attendees really appeared to enjoy hearing him speak as well. I would definitely volunteer at another one of these events! Thanks!”
Anything else you want to add?
Click here to read more about a recent Caring Connections event where we utilized volunteers to support the staff and interact with the participants.
February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), which is a unified effort among Jewish organizations and communities worldwide to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities. There will be wonderful community-wide events offered to help honor and commemorate JDAIM, so stay tuned for more information!
If you know anyone that would be interested in more information about joining Caring Connections, or if you are interested in volunteering at an upcoming Caring Connections event, please contact me at email@example.com or 952-542-4845.