When the long hours and stress of restaurant management proved too much for Larry Mandel, he sought work in other areas, but it was tough going.
“I looked for months and I found nothing,” the West Orange father of two said. Health issues made his search tougher.
Eventually, he turned to Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest NJ, where he was enrolled in a computer skills course. That opened up a whole new career field, and in March, he found a paid internship, working with computers, with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ at its headquarters on the Aidekman campus in Whippany.
Mandel’s hire came about through the Ruderman Family Foundation Opportunity Initiative, a program that so far has placed nine men and women with disabilities in internships or fellowships in Jewish federations throughout the country. The initiative is a collaboration between the foundation and the Jewish Federations of North America.
The Greater MetroWest federation was one of five around the country chosen to participate. Locally, the connection is being coordinated by Greater MetroWest ABLE, the community’s network of agencies serving individuals with special needs and their families.
“As a federation with a longstanding commitment to inclusion in every facet of our community through our MetroWest ABLE program, we are delighted to participate in this initiative,” said Stanley Stone, the federation’s senior vice president. He praised JFNA and the Ruderman foundation “for their dedication to disability and inclusion issues and their decision to include us in this groundbreaking program.”
The five federations taking part in the initial phase of the Ruderman initiative were selected from among the 16 represented on JFNA’s human services and public policy disability committee. The longer-term goal is to refine a program model that can be implemented at more federations.
Kira Borman, the initiative’s project coordinator, said, “These communities are walking the walk, not just talking the talk.” She urged other federations and lay leaders “to use the pilot sites as models of how this sort of initiative can work in their own communities.”
She said, “It has been an incredible experience for these nine different young men and women to get their foot in the door. For some individuals, this has been their first job. For others, this has provided a chance to return to work after years of unemployment and enter a new field. Meaningful professional relationships have been cultivated and individuals have deepened their connection to their Jewish values.”
Mandel lived for a number of years in New Hampshire before returning to New Jersey last year. Now he lives about a 20 minutes’ drive from the Jewish campus in Whippany, “when there isn’t too much traffic.” Over the past nine months, he has found himself working in different departments at federation, helping out on a variety of projects. His current assignment involves updating and correcting the list of synagogues in the region, a vital tool in numerous outreach initiatives and programs.
“I couldn’t do the restaurant work anymore, and I’m enjoying what I do now,” he said.