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Top Workplaces: Social service agency that offers Judaic programs a ‘little different’

Hartford Courant - 9/22/2022

The Jewish Association for Community Living, a nonprofit human and social services agency, is tied closely with West Hartford’s Jewish community, offering Judaic programs and celebrating the many holidays.

Known as the JCL and based in Bloomfield, it first moved people with disabilities out of institutions in 1982 into one of the first 50 group homes in Connecticut. JCL now operates four group homes in West Hartford that are home to 13 people. Others live on their own in apartments in West Hartford.

The JCL helps about 33 people with developmental disabilities participate in community life through personal development, community engagement, family relationships and services enhanced by Jewish tradition.

“I think that makes us a little different from other organizations that serve people,” said Sarah Winiarski, director of community relations.

The Jewish Association for Community Living ranked No. 22 among small companies and organizations.

Programs and services are open to all faiths and backgrounds, but JCL helps adults with special needs practice and reinforces their Jewish heritage.

Residents who live in their own apartments or condominiums participate in the JCL Supported Living program. They show an interest and ability to live their lives with greater independence and less supervision than in a group home.

They accept a greater role in directing their own lives, have more say with whom they live, use their own income to pay their bills, have independent access to their neighborhood and town and spend time at home without the presence of staff.

Winiarski said the organization, founded in 1982, has a staff of a little more than 100 employees. Most employees are “life skill instructors” who provide direct care and personal hygiene to residents. In addition, JCL provides transportation for appointments and grocery shopping, concerts and parks, she said.

The initial training is about two-and-a-half days and includes training that’s specific to each location.

Case managers and case workers who are state employees help people with disabilities apply for funding and find placement in group homes, community living settings, day programs, job placements and other activities. They are partners who work with JCL and with parents and guardians to find the best program fits for those they are assigned to help.

Support staff who are called Life Skills Instructors are employed by the Jewish Association for Community Living and work in one or more of its programs. They work directly with residents.

Employees said they believe their jobs are important to themselves, their clients and families.

“I make a positive difference every shift and have the opportunity to grow as a person as well as help them grow,” one employee said.

Another employee said the job makes it possible to “care for and nurture a vulnerable population that is thriving under our care.”

Programs and services are open to all faiths and backgrounds. But JCL helps adults with special needs observe and reinforce their Jewish heritage.

A Rosh Hashanah event is scheduled celebrating the start of the Jewish new year in late September. Events have been on Zoom but JCL hopes to return soon to in-person events, Winiarski said.

“Our Jewish heritage is so important to our organizational history, our connections in the community and the people we serve,” she said.

Even residents who are not Jewish look forward to the events because it’s a time they can meet with friends and socialize, she said.

The Jewish Association for Community Living, which is funded by the Connecticut Department of Social Services, has low staff turnover, with many employees on the job for as long as 20 years, Winiarski said. Employees do not need to have a background in the field, but it helps, she said. The organization trains its workers.

“We we have strong leadership, we have high morale among our employees,” she said. “It’s a very family-oriented organization, on the smaller side.”

Stephen Singer can be reached at

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