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Building a Strong and Vibrant Jewish Future

Read this story in the Washington Jewish Week

Hundreds of friends, members and alumni of BBYO will gather tonight for BBYO's eighth annual celebration marking the 30th anniversary of D.C. Council's special needs program.

Receiving the Kol Echad Award at the gala at the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel & Conference Center will be Fonda Lowe and Limor Hartman, two key players in the history of the special needs program which encompasses the Richard Anderman Shalom Chapter for teens with special needs and Kol Echad Youth (KEY) for teens with multiple disabilities.

As the original adviser of the Shalom Chapter, Lowe grew the program, which was the first of its kind in any BBYO council or region, from six to 15 teens during her 14-year term.

With bimonthly activities ranging from bowling to D.C. trips, Lowe created a place for teens with special needs to socialize and be integrated with typical teens in other BBG and AZA chapters, BBYO youth movement sororities and fraternities, respectively.

"The opportunity for socialization is so important because so often they don't have that opportunity in school, because they're in self-contained settings," said Lowe, who serves as director of the lower and middle school multiple learning, special needs program at the Ivymount School in Rockville. "It became clear that students who needed more support would also benefit from integration with more typically developing teens and vice versa. More and more, there were BBG and AZA chapters that wanted to do activities with us."

In 2001, Hartman took over the special needs program serving as the program director.

"I was hired to take it to the next level and bring the Shalom Chapter more to be part of BBYO and develop the special needs aspect to be more integrated with BBYO," said Hartman, who holds a master's degree in health service management.

With the creation of the Kol Echad Youth (KEY) program in 2008, Hartman expanded the special needs program to include teens with multiple disabilities. The program also created workshops for advisers and typical teens on awareness and collaborations with area Jewish organizations.

"KEY was created to include more teens in BBYO, and also used to spread awareness about disabilities and how to appreciate everyone's vulnerabilities," said Hartman.

For Joe and Elaine Potosky, the KEY program has served as an outlet for sons Ben and Sam who have been involved in the program for five years.

"As teens with disabilities grow up, they graduate out of the activities that are in place for kids with disabilities, and there's no real outlet for them to be with people their own age. The KEY program provides an opportunity to reinforce our Jewish customs that we hold dear and allows them to participate with kids their age where their disabilities are accommodated so that it's a successful opportunity," said Joe Potosky. "The KEY program is really beneficial for Ben and Sam because even though they don't have the ability to engage other kids, they're with other kids and doing activities that give them the sense of inclusion that they can't personally ask for or work towards because they don't know how to do that."

Seventeen year old Corey Migdal has been involved with the Shalom Chapter since the ninth grade after watching his older sister Talia become nesiyah (president) of Nava BBG.

"He was aware of BBYO through Talia and figured that when he was old enough he would also get involved," said Corey's father, Nelson Migdal. "Being a part of the Shalom Chapter and BBYO has been a life-changer for Corey ... . It's allowed him to be with and do a lot of the things that Jewish teens in BBYO in our area have done and has opened a broader circle of experiences and friends for him."

Migdal added that, with Hartman's help, Corey was able to travel to both regional and international BBYO conventions, and even joined the Melech AZA Chapter earlier this month.

"We are fortunate that Fonda was a part of the creation of the special needs program 30 years ago and that we have someone with the skills and compassion of Limor," said Migdal. "The 30th anniversary means that there have been multiple generations of Jewish teens in our area with special needs who have been able to be typical and participate in BBYO with their peers which up until recently was unique in the world. For 30 years, BBYO has really walked the walk and executed all of the lofty ideals in their mission statement and did everything that could be done to have there be a meaningful Jewish teen experience for all Jewish teens, even those that aren't typical."

On receiving the Kol Echad Award, Lowe explained that working with the special needs community is, "a passion of mine. I'm glad that I was able to play that role within a Jewish youth group. It's nice to be recognized for work that I did for a Jewish agency, as well."

"I think that I feel privileged and have felt privileged to have the opportunity to be involved in this change and am glad that BBYO has chosen to mark the 30th anniversary in such a way," said Hartman. "I have the best job in BBYO."

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