When we think about the most pressing issues cities have to deal with, we wonder about poverty, starvation, illiteracy, and other situations that may negatively affect the environment and our local communities. Usually, we look for solutions to these problems and create NGO’s and nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing the necessary resources some people are lacking. However, just a few of us are able to identify the lack of resources available to help individuals with disabilities as a pressing issue.
Statistics show that in the United States over 12 percent of the population has reported a disability. This means that more than 32 million people in the country are having a difficult time doing things that for most of us are simple and taken for granted. Also, 10 percent of the population in Illinois has reported having a disability, which means that at least 1,300 people need help and support to live a regular life.
These numbers are shocking and few people stop and look for solutions to help improve the life quality of individuals with reported disabilities. However, Yosef Meystel knows that in Chicago, there is an organization that has been working to serve individuals with disabilities. This organization is called Keshet and it is a nonprofit recognized as one of the most inspiring and innovative Jewish organizations in America.
What is Keshet?
The word Keshet means “rainbow” in Hebrew. This idea of protecting diversity and empowering people of all ages with reported disabilities is what makes Keshet the rainbow that most Chicagoans need to follow to find the pot full of gold.
Keshet is a nonprofit organization that serves over seventy zones in Chicago. It has an international approach and offers consultations from experts from all around the globe, moved by the idea of doing whatever necessary to help individuals with disabilities to reach their highest potential. This mission is what keeps the organization alive.
Both children and adults are served in the same way and the organization members do whatever is in their hands to allow them to overcome intellectual and physical challenges. This is how Keshet serves over 1,000 individuals with special needs every year, touching the lives of many, including family members, supporters, peers and stakeholders around the world.
How did it start?
Keshet was born 35 years ago. Since day one, students, residents, employees and campers with special need in more than seventy different zones in the Chicago area and the Midwest have been supported by the organization.
During these 35 years, the organization has trained more than 15,000 staff members to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. Staff members are always willing to become better versions of themselves to develop successful programs of inclusion. Also, Keshet integrates nearly 100 local leaders from extremely different backgrounds to provide the necessary inspiration, funding, and direction to fulfill the nonprofit’s mission: doing whatever necessary to let individuals with special needs meet their highest potential.
Beliefs and Values
Keshet believes that anyone should have the opportunity to work, learn, have fun, and live in a way that enhances love, self-esteem, and self-respect. For this reason, members of Keshet are served as important members of their community and are encouraged to enjoy life alongside regular developing peers. This way, becoming an active part of the community represents a reward and promotes love and acceptance.
There are some values that have to guide the organization to become what it is today:
- Every member of the community should be an active participant of its development, regardless its age or disability they all should have the same opportunities.
- There are no specific criteria for program acceptance. Individuals with complicated needs are welcomed to the program.
- No one should be turned away because of its inability to pay for Keshet services. The organization works restlessly to find donors, foundations, and partners to keep tuition fees at a low cost and offer scholarships.
- Every member of the organization is invited to share its history of success, this way the organization aims to involve stakeholders in the life of the community led by the organization.
The organization aims to integrate students, employees, residents and campers to their community by carefully designing experiences and programs that are relevant and successful for participants and their peers.
There are many programs that include education, adult, camps, Sunday, recreation and residential programs. All of them work hard to bring people together, eliminating barriers of discrimination and teaching individuals to participate in the local community. Anyone who has the time and desires to work at Keshet is welcomed.
Programs are usually individualized and integrate several concepts and consultative services. They are available for individuals from kindergarten to adulthood and are meant to be shaped based on personal needs. The organization understands that we are all different and disabilities should be treated in a special way.