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How Child Wellness Is Promoting Inclusion in the JCC Movement

By Mackenzie Adams

One of my colleagues recently wrote about the seven Jewish lenses that guide the work of JCC Association of North America’s Sheva Center. The lens of tzelem Elohim (the Divine image) reminds us that humankind was created in the image of God, b’tzelem Elohim. Because God is not a physical being, however, it is in the dignity and potential within each human that we see the image of God most vividly reflected, making each of us exactly like everyone else.

At the same time, Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 teaches, “A human being mints many coins from the same mold, and they are all identical. But the holy one, blessed by God, strikes us all from the mold of the first human and each one of us is unique.”

Together, these concepts remind us that it is our dignity and potential that make us sacred, unique, and exactly like all other humans. They remind us, too, of our responsibility, as professionals and fellow travelers in the universe, to ensure access to JCC programs, communities, and spaces for all people at all times.

Last year, the Sheva Center took an essential step in our journey toward inclusion with Discover CATCH (DCATCH), JCC Association’s signature wellness initiative for young children. Created in 2011 through a partnership with the University of Texas School of Public Health and its Coordinated Approach To Child Health (CATCH), DCATCH seeks to create healthy habits through a holistic approach aimed in the youngest members of our community. Initially, staff from over 65 JCCs participated in DCATCH trainings using a train-the-trainer model, and they, in turn, trained at least 1,000 practitioners to implement the program. During the last decade, we and our JCCs built cohorts and relationships, as well as partnerships with companies and organizations—some local and some that span North America—to ensure the success of DCATCH.

We recently partnered with the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCHPAD), and its leaders’ guidance and generosity led to the birth of Discover CATCH+. This newest initiative will move the Sheva Center closer to our goal of full inclusion and access for every member of our community. As wonderful as it is to offer a program specifically designed to promote wellness among our community’s youngest members, however, it cannot possibly be successful until and unless all children have access to it and are welcome and able to participate.

Early in our partnership, the team at NCHPAD invited us to Birmingham, Alabama, where we toured Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital, which is dedicated to improving the lives of people with physical disabilities through opportunities to lead healthy lives. We participated in a day-long training session around their mission statement and “why,” and we all left with a deep understanding that to be effective, programs and practice must be inextricably linked to awareness, advocacy, and access. The Sheva Center prides itself on programs and service rooted in core values inherent in Jewish teachings, and there is absolutely no way our work reflects these values if the entire community cannot participate.

As part of our partnership, the NCHPAD team overhauled the DCATCH program, revising and adapting our materials and training us to present and implement the program in an inclusive way. The team also suggested we pursue a grant opportunity from the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative Partnership for Inclusive Health Innovation. This funding enabled us to provide Discover CATCH+ training, curricula, and equipment to 12 JCCs, with pilot training happening this month, which is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.

Most important, though, is the paradigm shift happening in our organization. The DCATCH+ training team includes professionals from a wide array of program areas, and as a result, we anticipate that our commitment to awareness, advocacy, and access in all program areas will pervade JCC Association and the programs and services we provide to JCCs across North America. We are excited to launch our Discover CATCH+ cohort as an important step in our ongoing efforts to promote and foster inclusion throughout the JCC Movement.

To learn more about the Discover CATCH+ program, email Mackenzie Adams

Mackenzie Adams is the assistant director of the Sheva Center and coordinator for health and wellness services for JCC Association of North America.

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