By Sierra Weiss
Recently I visited the David Posnack JCC in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the first time. Though I welcomed an escape from the cold New York winter, the trip was more than a winter getaway. I traveled to the Sunshine State for the inaugural GAP Games, designed for participants in the Giborim Adult Program (GAP). GAP is part of the JCC’s focus on Giborim United, which ensures that members of all ages with disabilities can enrich their lives socially and behaviorally while gaining communication skills and independence by forging genuine connections to each other and the community.
Over the course of three days, 20 GAP participants competed in several sports activities and Jewish values-based programming. It was an exciting change in routine that, through sports, gave them new ways to collaborate with one another, strengthen their friendships, and connect to the Jewish values that are the foundation of the JCC Movement.
The Fort Lauderdale Access team that put together the GAP Games—Annie Wallace, Access Games director; Sabrina Sessa, Access Games deputy director; and Debbie Lombard, Access delegation coordinator—was committed to bringing a JCC Maccabi®-style program to their GAP participants ahead of hosting the JCC Maccabi Games the Posnack JCC will host this summer. They certainly met their goal, providing an outstanding experience for GAP members. The Access professionals also created a replicable model other JCCs can use to successfully develop, launch, and identify and cultivate resources—time, talent, and funding—for ongoing, local programs that support athletes, their families, and other community members with disabilities.
Perhaps most valuable to those of us who will be running the upcoming Access Games this summer was the opportunity to observe various sports activities “live” and onsite, so we can work out any details that need adjustment or improvement. Among the things we learned from the GAP Games are the number of volunteers we’ll need to designate to each sport, the types of cues that will help athletes recognize where they’ll need to be on the field and in which direction they will need to run. The experience also gave our team practice implementing this type of sports event and bolstered our confidence about doing it again in August.
This summer’s JCC Maccabi® Games at the Posnack JCC will mark the second year of the three-year pilot of Access, a JCC Maccabi experience for 12- to 22-year-old Jewish athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities. At last summer’s successful program launch, hosted by the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego, Calif., seven inaugural Access athletes, including two from Israel, representing five delegations all participated—with one-to-one support—in the JCC Maccabi Games in both unified and specialized activities. The program offers inclusive and meaningful ways for these athletes to join thousands of their Jewish peers from around the world to experience the magic of JCC Maccabi.
Wallace, Sessa, and Lombard are excited to expand the program in Fort Lauderdale this year and have been working toward this goal from the moment we all returned from San Diego last summer. Their aim is to create what promises to be an incredible experience for an anticipated 20-30 athletes representing 10-15 delegations this summer. When the deadline for delegation applications passed a few weeks ago, it was clear that their hard work and dedication are paying off. We’re already well on the way to meeting that goal!
With the last medals of the GAP Games awarded and plans for JCC Maccabi Access Games more firmly in place, I left Fort Lauderdale confident that this second pilot year of JCC Maccabi’s Access Games will be an incredible moment of growth, providing athletes with an important opportunity to be welcomed in to the JCC Movement and the global Jewish community.
Sierra Weiss is JCC Association of North America‘s access and inclusion specialist for the JCC community.
Join us in Israel this summer for JCC Maccabi 2023! Sign up and join the games at jccmaccabi.org.
JCC Association is proud to be a leader among community-based organizations focused on Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM), a unified, annual effort each February to promote awareness, acceptance, and full inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in organizations, institutions, and initiatives throughout the Jewish community. We consider this work integral to the fabric of our movement.