A Light Onto Others: How RAISE Is A Beacon To The Central Florida Community
(Logo courtesy of RAISE)
Leading RAISE, Loren London and Rachel Slavkin embody the term "enlighten." Each shines a light on the current socio-economic challenges and barriers persons with disabilities (PWD) face daily.
RAISE, Recognizing Abilities and Inclusion of Special Employees, is a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando (JFGO) that empowers PWD and their families by providing social skills and paid work training at eight locations in Central Florida. Upon completion of the September- May program, RAISE assists participants with the transition to community employment.
I had the chance to speak with London (RAISE Founder and Director) and Slavkin (Director of Employment and Education) to learn more about how these women and their dedicated team continue to raise awareness of inclusion in Central Florida and beyond.
(Image courtesy of London. The image depicts Loren London and Rachel Slavkin)
1. What was the catalyst behind the program?
London: The story of RAISE began in 2012 as I tried to help my brother Barry look for employment. As a PWD, Barry struggled with finding and keeping a job. He was also overwhelmed and frustrated by the process involved with accessing state services that were intended to support him and others with special needs.
And so, when Barry shared with pride that staff members recognized and greeted him by name each time he walked through the lobby of the JFGO, the idea coalesced to create a program that would begin with kindness and inclusion and ultimately lead to competitive employment. I recognized that there was a niche for a program that could teach skills, offer paid training jobs at collaborating agencies and bring our community together for a greater good. Thankfully, the RAISE concept was well received by leadership and so with determination, I set out to find a team of professionals who shared my vision and wanted to help build a model from the ground up.
(Image courtesy of RAISE. Image depicts Barry)
2. Since the program's inception eight years ago, how has society evolved in how it views disability?
Slavkin: It is a slow-moving process. Companies are beginning to embrace people with special needs in their hiring practices. Some companies actively recruit neurodiverse employees because they can provide different perspectives. Recently, we began working with Amazon, which has a whole division of human resources dedicated to hiring adults with disabilities and providing them with necessary accommodations.
(Image courtesy of RAISE)
3. How does RAISE incorporate its mission and vision into its programming?
Slavkin: IIncluded in the RAISE mission is “building confidence.”RAISE" provides persons with disabilities the confidence to be active and contributing members of the community. The program goes beyond providing social and employability skills to its participants. RAISE educates participants' family members with resources to help them to be the best advocate for their sons/daughters and offers a support group with mental health professionals to help family members navigate life challenges.
(Images courtesy of RAISE)
4. What are your future goals for the program?
London: We are thrilled to be replicating the RAISE model and look forward to selecting and launching our first pilot site in a new location soon. We hope that RAISE on the Road will bring inclusion to other communities, one city at a time.