If there is anything that I have learned in my lifetime it's that we are more alike than we are not alike. I have traveled to far corners of the earth, where parents worry about their kids with the same fervor as someone in middle America. We all strive for a better life for our families, but often times we have little control over the outcome. We make the best of it, and sometimes we try something that garners miraculous results.
Suzan Sencan enrolled her two sons at the JCompany Theatre at the JCC in La Jolla to overcome challenges brought on by their disability. Both of her boys, Aydin who is fourteen-years-old, and twelve-year-old Ahlten are autistic. She wanted them to grow alongside their peers, and a drama class seemed like a good choice. Recently both boys performed in a production of Beauty and Beast and got rave reviews. According to Suzan, "The boys loved performing on stage and it was Ahlten's first show! Ahlten was ecstatic to be an enchanted mirror in the ensemble. He was so proud that the “older” kids reviewed with him his cue and some ideas on what he could do as an enchanted mirror. I was incredibly proud of Aydin’s performance. If someone had told me 5 years ago Aydin had a named character role with JCompany, I would not have believed them. It’s amazing as a parent, to see the boys perform on stage, being in synch during a dance, making their cues and performing their roles as directed."
Inclusiveness is the protocol at the JCC, it teaches children to get along with each other and work together because, in reality, they will have to work with a variety of people, different personality types, and backgrounds, and utilize problem-solving skills in adulthood.
Joey Landwehr Artistic Director at JCompany Youth Theatre states, "Inclusivity of all kinds from those with special needs to those from different backgrounds, race, creed, orientation, socio-economic backgrounds are all welcome at JCompany and the JCC. I think because of our geography (Being housed in La Jolla, which, let's face it, has an exclusive er about it due to how expensive it is to live here and the people that chose to settle here.) I think many times the general public, unknowingly, thinks the opposite of us; and assumes we are an exclusive place where you have to know someone to be a part of it. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. I take great pride in the wonderfully diverse group of young artists a part of our show."
The JCC has an Inclusion Specialist Lori Kauffman-Faison, having an inclusion specialist on staff helps with the fluidity of their programs. "All of our programs at the JCC are open to kids with and without disabilities. We have programs and classes in sports, art, theatre, music, and swimming. Since we are a full inclusion program, we can provide and aid to make sure the child or teen has a successful inclusive experience."
The JCC's approach to managing special needs students is so successful that a former student and camper now works at the JCC according to Ms. Kauffman-Faison. "We have one student who enrolled in JCC when he was a preschooler and continued as a camper all throughout his school years. When he was in the 11th grade, he participated in our summer Leadership in Training (LIT) Program. From there he became a camp counselor until he graduated high school. In his transition to adulthood, he worked with a supported living agency and moved into an apartment close to the JCC. Now this man, who is now 28, works at the JCC 2 days a week with a job coach, performing all kinds of work at the JCC for various departments. The JCC has been a constant for him, from childhood to adulthood. "
Ms. Kauffman-Faison has been with the JCC for twenty years and has seen the program expand and flourish. "When we first started this program we had 5 participants. Last summer we served nearly 60 campers with special needs in Camp Jaycee, and over 100 children during the year in all of our programs, in an inclusive center where everyone feels welcome. We are especially grateful to the Melvin Garb Foundation who our program is named after, as their significant yearly gifts have enabled us to provide funding for our inclusion staff and summer aids."
Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center- 4126 Executive Drive La Jolla, CA 92037 Tel. 858-457-3030
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