Children with Special Needs

When children can’t participate in Jewish life, neither can their families.

Nearly 20% of the population is diagnosed with some type of cognitive or developmental disability, which includes autism spectrum disorders, hearing or visual impairments, physical disabilities, anxiety, and ADHD. This translates into approximately 9,000 Jewish children under the age of 18 in the Federation's service area, many of whom are not able to participate in Jewish early childhood education, religious school, day school, camp, or family and teen programming because these environments have lacked the necessary supports to plan for and serve children with special needs. This can leave the children and their families with little or no Jewish community in their lives.

Our goal is to build the capacity of the entire community to be inclusive and truly welcoming for children with special needs and their families.  

To achieve this, we work in partnership with Jewish LearningWorks, Friendship Circle, and others to support professional training and development for Jewish educators, consultation in early childhood education settings, effective social enrichment activities for children, teens and friends, and family camp weekends for special needs children and their families.  

INCLUDE: A Partnership for Impact 

In partnership with Jewish LearingWorks, the Federation supports the INCLUDE program to help build the capacity of 30 Jewish institutions in the North and South Peninsula, comprising congregations, schools and JCCs, with the goal of transforming these institutions into environments in which every person has the opportunity to be included in Jewish life and community, participating meaningfully in educational, social, cultural and spiritual programs. 

INCLUDE has served more than 600 Jewish children with special needs and their families, but the true impact of this work extends much further, reaching thousands of Jews who are parents, siblings, friends, and educators of a special needs child. The Federation is actively raising funds to support and expand this work throughout the area.  

Camp Weekend for Children with Special Needs and Their Families

The Federation supports the Special Needs Family Camp Weekend, operated by Jewish LearningWorks. This unique program offers families a much anticipated and cherished weekend of respite, support, Shabbat celebration, and Jewish community in a beautiful camp setting. In addition to direct support for the program, the Federation provides financial assistance to families unable to pay the weekend program fee in full. On average, 27 families (86 individuals) attend Family Camp Weekend each year.

Early Childhood Consultation

Identifying special needs and responding quickly with adaptive solutions is critical to a child’s development. The Federation's funding helps Jewish LearningWorks provide expert consultation for preschool educators to support children’s successful growth and development. Early childhood educators report that additional services are needed at this key developmental time in a child’s life, and the Federation hopes to expand this support in the near future.

Friendship Circle (Peninsula) 

Friendship Circle builds community for Jewish special needs children, families, and teen volunteers who are inspired to make a difference in the community. The Friendship Circle model provides social, Judaic, and recreational activities for Jewish children with a range of special needs, including those with "invisible" disabilities such as high-functioning Asperger's syndrome, social anxieties, and/or learning disabilities.


For more information, please contact:
Wendy Verba
Managing Director, Community Impact