2019 Philanthropy Awards: Keshet

It’s been 36 years since Keshet, which means “rainbow” in Hebrew, was founded in Chicago with the intent to give people with special needs a better life. With programming ranging from preschool to adult daily living, Keshet has helped over a thousand individuals with disabilities find their place in not just the Jewish community but a larger one as well.

Keshet’s services start with integrated education programs covering kindergarten to age 22 at seven different locations throughout Chicago and the North Shore. The organization believes in maintaining the least restrictive learning environment for students, enabling kids with a variety of disabilities to take classes, play at recess, and go to assemblies with their peers. Additionally, Keshet provides occupational, physical, speech, and language therapists and social workers to help each student reach his or her full potential.

As students get older, they transition into the Keshet High School, run in conjunction with the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, where they work with vocational specialists who help with job training and work experiences. These real-world experiences continue on through the Coe-Worker Keshet Transition Program, which helps students ages 18-21 prepare for the working world. Keshet students have gone on to work at places such as the Northbrook Public Library, The Home Depot, GlenCrest Nursing Home, and Mariano’s grocery stores.

One of the most important services that Keshet provides is GADOL — Giving Adults Daily Opportunities for Living. GADOL, which also means “great” in Hebrew, gives participants job and life-skills training in addition to opportunities to simply hang out and socialize with friends. Participants work on mastering public transportation, job readiness, personal grooming, and goal-setting and resiliency.

Participants even have the option to live at Keshet forever, through the residential My Life program. My Life opened in 2015 in Highland Park, and offers seven different two-bedroom apartments with a common living space. Residents have access to a nutritionist and 24-hour care, as well as increased job opportunities. They also engage in service work and opportunities to give back around the Chicago area.

Keshet also partners with numerous day and overnight camps, including the JCC Chicago camps, JCYS, Junior Gan Israel, Camp Nageela Midwest, and Ramah Day Camp, to offer participants a chance to go to camp. This is just one of the many ways Keshet helps people feel included in a larger community and create lasting and meaningful connections to Judaism.

Ultimately, Keshet wants people to see that disabilities are not about what a person can’t do. Keshet is not about saying no, explains CEO and Executive Director Abbie Weisberg. It’s about saying yes — and how?

By the Numbers:

  • More than 1,000 individuals with disabilities served
  • 70+ locations in Chicagoland and the Midwest
  • 15,000 staff members trained