Learning Strength, Respect, and Teamwork with Horvitz YouthAbility

JFSA Horvitz YouthAbility performs for volunteers at Jewish Federation of Cleveland's Super Sunday.

It was a beautiful summer day and Ted had great tickets to Progressive Field for a baseball game. But he didn’t go. He didn’t want to. He wanted to spend the day with his fellow Horvitz YouthAbility ambassadors picking up trash at Edgewater Beach.

An initiative of Federation beneficiary agency Jewish Family Service Association (JFSA), YouthAbility serves youths with a disability and at-risk youth by engaging them in volunteer service, vocational activities, and social enrichment. Through empowerment and learning opportunities, Horvitz YouthAbility ambassadors gain necessary skills they’ll be able to use throughout their lives. Founded in 2005, the program has worked with more than 3000 young adults over the past 16 years. During this past year, YouthAbility has provided service to about 110 ambassadors.

“Our program creates an environment for the ambassadors to become involved in our community and feel good about the deeds they do for people throughout the area,” said Heidi Solomon, director of Horvitz YouthAbility. “This group is amazing and I am lucky to be a part of their lives.”

Heidi creates activities for the ambassadors in Cleveland, as well as throughout the United States and Israel such as lunch and food delivery to community agencies, gardening in community gardens, creating greeting cards for sick children, and much more. In 2016, Heidi put Horvitz YouthAbility on the national stage when she secured a musical performance at Walt Disney World for the ambassadors on World Down Syndrome Day – the first one of its kind at the Florida amusement park.

This past year, the pandemic prevented the group from gathering in-person. But it did not keep them from working together and learning new skills during regular Zoom calls. Ambassadors took this unique opportunity to learn how to read and speak Chinese with the assistance of an interpreter. “We have continued to meet virtually to make sure our ambassadors feel connected,” said Solomon.

“I miss being able to be with my friends, but we help each other a lot and I’m very appreciative of being in YouthAbility,” said Ronit, a YouthAbility ambassador. “I’m so happy to be in this group and be able to do art exploration and be inspired by everyone.”

Ronit, right, receives a birthday surprise from fellow YouthAbility ambassadors during COVID-19.

“I have learned to be seen and heard,” said Ted. “YouthAbility gives me respect and I get to be strong, and all of the ambassadors are my friends.”

Ted represents Horvitz YouthAbility at the MedWish Miles virtual event.

“It’s a blessing and gratifying to watch these young adults grow and learn together,” added Ted’s mother, Gail. “It’s a lesson to all of us to be more respectful to everyone. The kindness and support shines through every day with this group. I got such a lucky ticket with Ted, and YouthAbility has been that lucky ticket for Ted!”

What helps keep Horvitz YouthAbility going are the volunteers, like Linda Chapman, who has been dedicated to the program since her daughter, Kimberly, passed away in 2010. “Kimberly was a ‘professional volunteer for YouthAbility’ as [Kim] would say. My daughter loved this program,” said Chapman. “When she passed away, I knew I had to do something to keep her legacy alive, and that was to allow this program to continue for these young adults, to give back to this program that made Kimberly so happy. And over these past ten years, the Horvitz YouthAbility program has done more for me than I could ever do for them. I have learned so much from these ambassadors and from everyone associated with the program.”

“This community mean everything to me and this group,” said Solomon. “I can’t thank the Jewish Cleveland community for everything they do for us.”

For more information on Horvitz YouthAbility, contact Melanie Halvorson at mhalvorson@jcfcleve.org or 216-593-2868.

Horvitz YouthAbility is generously supported by numerous family foundations and endowments throughout the community.

YouthAbility ambassadors give the program 'two thumbs up!'

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