Excited to be chosen for the EDI GSL Experience in Israel

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Elwyn Week Three

Elwyn Week Three

This week began with two trips, both of which have been some of my favorite experiences at Elwyn. On Sunday we visited Ashkelon, a city that is just 6 miles from the Gaza Strip, the territory in which much conflict takes place. While the services in Ashkelon were similar to many occupational training centers and sheltered workshops that Elwyn operates elsewhere in Israel, the threat of war creates a unique issue for the Elwyn center in Ashkelon.

From the sound of a warning alarm, residents of Ashkelon only have 40 seconds to seek refuge in a bomb shelter. This means that at Elwyn, staff must maintain order and lead the dozens of people with disabilities into a relatively small shelter room in the building in under a minute. Moreover, even more challenging is the fact that during prolonged violence the facility may have to close for an extended period. For example, during last November’s unrest, the frequent dropping of bombs on Ashkelon required that the facility be closed for about a week. This creates a unique challenge for the individuals as well as their families, residential staff, or caregivers. Additionally, this also leads to an interruption in services for people with disabilities.
The Bomb Shelter in Elwyn Ashkelon
One thing this experience has made me realize is that there is no correct answer for handling services for people with disabilities. Whether it is an individual’s personal preferences, religion, abilities, family, or geographical location, each of these components creates a unique circumstance that must be considered when determining where an individual would best be placed.

On Monday we had the opportunity to meet with various HR executives and supervisors in three large organizations that employ people with disabilities from Elwyn in supported employment. We spoke with representatives from BDO (a leading Israeli financial and consulting firm), Aroma Espresso Bar (one of the largest coffee shop chains in Israel), and Dan Hotel (a renowned luxury hotel chain). While our conversations varied at each site, there were a few similarities between all three that truly struck me.

In each of these companies, the managers were extremely passionate about the importance of hiring people with disabilities. They made it a priority to support their employees in creating a productive and comfortable workplace, happily implementing any necessary accommodations. In cases where other executives within the corporation were hesitant to hire people with disabilities (or hire more), the supervisors acted as an advocate, and have continued to build a relationship with Elwyn and work to find more job placements. Moreover, the individuals were happy in their work environment, developing meaningful relationships with their co-workers and, in many cases, interacting with customers.  These situations served as perfect examples of what an ideal supported employment placement should be, and I wish that others could have heard the positive words that the employees and management shared with us.

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