Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Wolf.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Michelle. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In my younger days, I imagined myself as a globe-trotting journalist, covering crises and fascinating stories in every corner of the world, but over time, I realized that I didn’t want to play the role of an observer. I wanted to make things happen, especially for people who were vulnerable, so I pursued double master degrees in public administration and Jewish community nonprofit management.
After our second child was diagnosed with global developmental delays at the age of 13 months, I turned my professional focus to children and adults with special needs and held a variety of jobs and consulting gigs in that area. Bet Tzedek Legal Services hired me as a consultant to help with a new project that would bring together professionals from the aging and developmental disabilities worlds, as those two populations are starting to overlap, and out of that work emerged a new nonprofit, JLA Special Needs Trust & Services.
In my role as Founding Executive Director of JLA Special Needs Trust & Services, I meet with many older parents, mostly mothers in their 70s and 80s, who are still taking care of their middle-aged adult children with a range of serious disabilities, from autism, traumatic brain injury to bi-polar mental illness.
The stigma of having an adult child with a mental or intellectual/developmental disability marginalized these families decades ago, and as a result, these mothers have been on their own, often isolated from the Jewish community. They are scared of a future when they will no longer be there to provide money and day-to-day assistance in a myriad of ways, from filling prescriptions to paying the gas bill. We are working hard to fill this void.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have been many challenges along the way to my current job, such as trying to keep my professional career going while also taking care of a child with developmental and physical disabilities, especially when he was younger and needed to go to physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy many days a week. His disabilities impacted the whole family.
We’d love to hear more about your organization.
We are a community-based nonprofit that provides highly-personalized, affordable professional trustee services for persons with a wide variety of disabilities and special needs.
In addition to the important fiduciary function, we go beyond that minimum with the following services:
• Expert staff knowledge of government benefits as they impact persons with disabilities.
• Locally-based client services staff that is highly responsive to beneficiary needs, and will reach out proactively if we haven’t heard from a beneficiary.
• Partnership with True Link Financial for their highly customizable restricted-use VISA card which gives.
• Family members or paid caregivers the ability to pay for pre-approved expenses easily, while at the same time building in safeguards from theft or fraud.
• Ability to act as the overall “Care Coordinator” if private case management services are needed. We primarily contract out with a leader in private case management, LivHome, but we can also contract out with other in-home care agencies and private pay social workers.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
The most essential qualities in my work have been flexibility, creativity and resilience. So often the first solution turns out to not be the best solution, and it’s really important to be open to change, and not get stuck on any one particular approach. What looks so perfect on paper can often be difficult to implement.
Also, almost every problem has been solved by someone or some other group before, so seeking out existing solutions, and then tweaking them to meet our individual situation is key. And most important, don’t give up. I like to think that there’s always a way forward, even if it can be hard to see at any moment in time.
I also like to bring in many different voices and perspectives to all that we do at our nonprofit because out of that group process, best practices can emerge.
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Janet Algazi, Gregg Shore