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JDC Supports Elderly and Disabled Residents in Israel's Southern Region
 
During Operation Cast Lead, The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), with JFNA's support, was actively involved in providing emergency assistance to elderly and disabled residents living in Israel’s southern conflict zone. Today, these programs have been adapted to assist vulnerable residents during peacetime as well, and have leveraged funding and partnerships from the Ministry of Health and the Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry.
 
Even Stronger, a program that assists elderly and disabled in Israel's southern region, is the birth child of JDC and JFNA's successful emergency program 120 Strong. The original program trained caseworkers to assist the elderly and disabled living in the country's South during Operation Cast Lead.
 
The success of 120 Strong proved that there was a need for these services during peacetime as well, resulting in this multi-tiered initiative involving two programs that assist elderly and disabled residents: Accessible Communities for the Disabled, and the Community Caseworker Model.
 
Accessible Communities for the Disabled brings together and trains community activists, most of whom are disabled themselves, to effectively advocate for more accessible services, and to create more opportunities for disabled people. JDC, with the crucial support of JFNA, has successfully implemented this program in Rahat, Yavne, Kiryat Malachi, Sderot and Ashkelon.
 
The project has brought together 641 activists, of which 100 are trained and active leaders within their community and are already advocating for change. They have been involved in obtaining increased accessibility to community services and public recreational places, such as swimming pools and libraries. Activists are also promoting employment empowerment, and are getting involved in educational campaigns, such as designing a curriculum to educate school-children about disability.  Participants are also taking steps to ensure that the South’s disabled citizens are adequately prepared for emergencies.
 
Accessible Communities for the Disabled has resulted in many successful partnerships, as activists have teamed up with municipal leadership and other local organizations to advance the needs of disabled citizens. The activist groups have organized many social, educational and cultural programs for people with disabilities, including a Purim party in Sderot for 100 people, and an employment empowerment workshop. Their work has been recognized nationally as well, with one of the Rahat activists receiving the Ministry of Social Services and Social Affairs medal for volunteerism.
 
Dalia's story shows that empowerment can have a powerful ripple effect. Dalia, a single new immigrant mother living in Sderot, has physical disabilities that have prevented her from securing stable and long-lasting employment. Dalia was put in contact with the Accessible Communities program through her volunteer work in Sderot. Inspired, she decided to organize an employment and personal empowerment course for 12 women with disabilities. That course, in turn, encouraged Dalia and three other participants to organize emergency preparedness training for people with disabilities in Sderot. Dalia’s involvement in Accessible Communities has empowered her to make a significant contribution to the lives of people with disabilities, and to the community as a whole. 
 
The second tier of Even Stronger, the Community Caseworker Model, is a continuation of the 120 Strong model from Operation Cast Lead. 120 Strong deployed caseworkers to assess the needs of elderly and disabled residents and to connect them with community service providers. Caseworkers identified important gaps in service provisions, allowing The Community Caseworker Model to incorporate changes in its current program.
 
The peace-time program arranges for community caseworkers to identify the needs of elderly and disabled people living in the country’s southern conflict zone. Caseworkers work with community organizations to trace the elderly and disabled who are at high risk in order to ensure that their needs are met at time of emergency. They also recruit volunteers to fill these tasks. Recently the Home Front Command expressed its interest in taking an active part in this program.
 
The reliability of the Community Caseworker Model was recently tested in a national emergency drill in May. During the drill, JDC successfully stimulated the Community Caseworkers Model at the headquarters level. As a result, JDC was invited by the Ministry of Social Services – as part of the simulation process - to implement the model and deploy community caseworkers in dozens of communities within the first 24 hours of the next security crisis.
 
JDC, through the support of JFNA, is now launching the Community Caseworker peacetime model in partnership with the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services in three sites: Beer Sheva, Netivot and Sha’ar Hanegev, aiming to reach out door-to-door approximately 8,000 elderly and disabled who are at high risk of being left without social support network at time of emergency. The pilot program is expected to end in March 2012. 

By Devorah Nutovics

To read the JDC Emergency and Support Programs report, and to find out more about JDC Emergency and Support Programs in the South, click here.

To read JDC's Executive Summary evaluation of its 120 Strong program during Operation Cast Lead, click here.

Accessible Communities for the Disabled brings together and trains community activists, most of whom are disabled themselves, to effectively advocate for more accessible services, and to create more opportunities for disabled people.

Caseworkers work with community organizations to trace the elderly and disabled who are at high risk in order to ensure that their needs are met at time of emergency.