Organization works to meet needs of Jewish students with disabilities

When Rachel Stegman noticed her son was struggling in school, she did not want to repeat history.

She’d had difficulties in school herself because of what she now believes is undiagnosed autism. Her son, whom she described as “amazingly visual and artistic,” experienced sensory overload on top of challenges with executive functioning and keeping up with the assignments at his public school.

He was ultimately diagnosed with autism and later transferred to Pardes Jewish Day School, a private school near Scottsdale and Cactus roads. There, he had an Individualized Educational Plan, or IEP, and started receiving services from Gesher Disability Resources.

The organization was started in 1985 under the name Council for Jews with Special Needs, with the aim of making typical Jewish activities and services more accessible to people with disabilities.

Executive director Amy Hummell said the organization has four focus areas – education, religion, residential and social – that all come together to help people lead “fuller lives” regardless of their different abilities.

Amy Hummell, executive director of Gesher Disability Resources, poses for a portrait at Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center on Thursday, March 31, 2022, in Scottsdale.

Their programs currently include Simchat Shabbat, an abbreviated and modified Shabbat service held at Congregation Beth Israel each month, social gatherings and Jewish group homes for adults with disabilities.

In 2014, Gesher added education services to the mix, which Stegman said has “been great” for helping her son work to overcome learning challenges. Her 8-year-old daughter, also diagnosed with autism, will soon be getting similar assistance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button