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Special Needs Programs

Welcoming and Inclusive

The JCC offers programming in the mainstream of the Jewish community for individuals with special needs. We encourage every interested person with a disability to participate in our programs.

The Special Needs Department is supported in part by the Herman and Rebecca Fineberg Fund for People with Special Needs with additional support from the Edna and Larry Abelson Fund for Special Needs, the Raymond and Elizabeth Bloch Educational and Charitable Foundation, the Ralph Davidson Special Needs Fund, the Zola Hirsch Fund for Special Needs and the Robert Spiegel Memorial Endowment Fund.

For teenagers and young adults with special needs

For more information or to schedule a trial period, please contact Rachael Speck at 412-697-3537


The Gesher program provides afternoon activities for young adults with varying physical, intellectual, developmental disabilities. We provide focused attention to each participant with an emphasis on socialization skills, physical fitness and gross motor development and life skills. Participants learn the importance of teamwork, independence and relationship building while enjoying the JCC’s fully equipped meeting rooms, dance studio, gym and swimming pool.This fall we will be adding an afternoon specialty on Thursdays focused on technology skill building. Participants will learn how to use devices to communicate online, access information, word processing functions and use software and applications for art projects, pictures, digital images and games. If there is a skill or interest your participant is interested in learning, we encourage you to share that with us. This program is open to all participants, regardless of ability level. Devices will be provided but participants are also welcome to bring their own phone, tablet and/or laptop computer.


Activities are intended to expand participant’s horizons while increasing cognitive, communication, social and physical skills. The activity-filled afternoons offer a nice mix of new and familiar experiences for all participants.

Activities vary according to the day of the week.

  • Dance Room Time includes music for dancing and singing. We also have movement games, parachute games and exercise time.
  • Gym games
  • Buddy Time includes activities such as puzzles, drawing and games with staff to aid our young people with social and communication skills.
  • Neighborhood walks through Squirrel Hill, weather permitting
  • Visits to a playground or a scavenger hunt.
  • Art projects
  • Swimming
  • Excursions to the Carnegie Library in Squirrel Hill. We sit together in the library and listen to stories.
  • Sofa Time is a time to sing a couple of songs or to have a short group game before our day together ends.

Daily from 5:45 until 6 pm, we gather our coats and backpacks and head down to meet our rides to go home.

Our schedule for the most part is predictable and routine. We are also flexible as we try to keep things fresh and fun for our friends. We have found that this works best for them.

Our Staff

Gesher Special Needs Program is staffed by caring adults who get to know the participants and are able to respond to their individual needs. Each staff member has worked with the special needs population in a variety of ways and finds creative ways to nurture the participants’ appreciation of art, animals and music.

JCC Membership

JCC membership is required to become a member of the Gesher Special Needs Program. Scholarships are available to those who qualify. Please call 412-697-3525 for information.

Becoming part of the Gesher Special Needs Program

The best part of the Gesher Special Needs Program is the close bond that is shared by the participants with each other and with the staff. You are welcome to visit us and be a part of our activities.

All interested potential members can try Gesher Special Needs Program for a three-day trial period with their parent(s) or caregiver.

Meet the Staff

Lynne Carvell, Teen and Young Adult Center Coordinator

Lynne has a B.A. from Newberry College in South Carolina. She has many years of experience working with children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities in a variety of schools and care settings, including the Youth Development Center campus school for socially and emotionally disabled boys who were adjudicated delinquent by the Pennsylvania courts, in public schools in Georgia and Pennsylvania, and in a day program for preschool children with special needs.

Lynne worked for many years for Family Courts in Lebanon and Allegheny Counties as a Domestic Relations Officer facilitating child support and visitation cases.

Prior to working at the JCC, she worked for Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic as a therapeutic staff support person and as a TSS at the JCC’s after-school Clubhouse program.

Lynne has fostered two children with intellectual and physical disabilities and has rescued many dogs and cats. She has volunteered in her community and serves on the board at New Horizon Theater. She has coordinated the JCC Gesher Special Needs Program since 2007.  Lynne has great affection for the young people and staff in the program.

Iris Pirchesky

Iris graduated from California University of Pennsylvania and attended Carlow University for Art Therapy. She has  had internships at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind and Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. She has worked with geriatric patients as well as people with mental health issues and cerebral palsy, the intellectually disabled. hearing impaired, visually impaired,  traumatic brain injured, physically challenged and those on the autism spectrum.  Iris uses therapies such as art, music, pets, relaxation, movement and meditation, which have provided many success stories.

Iris has been with the Gesher Special Needs Program at the JCC since 2007 and is a valuable part of the program where she engages the young people with creative art and craft projects, games and music. Iris is a lover of animals and is a mother to birds and other critters. Iris enjoys working with the program participants.

A social group for young adults, ages 20 and up, with mild to moderate developmental disabilities. This group meets weekly for programming meetings overseen by a staff advisor and enjoy programs they have developed.

The JCC collaborates with the Agency for Jewish Learning, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Jewish Residential Services, and Friendship Circle to produce a regular newsletter for those interested in Inclusion in our Jewish community. The Connections newsletter includes resources and information on programming and efforts in our agencies and synagogues to help include every member of our community, no matter what special needs they may have.

Gesher Newsletter

Connections online

Individualized training for Special Olympics. Special Olympics is for anyone over age 8 with cognitive delays. Please call for start dates.

The Gesher program serves high functioning teens with special needs. Gesher participants engage in their favorite camp activities such as ropes course, water-tubing and horseback riding. Campers learn teamwork, independence and Jewish identity. Interaction with other campers and integration into activities with groups of all ages is a focal point of our program. For info: Aaron Cantor, 412-339-5412.
Major funding for the Gesher Program is provided by The Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust.

Contact Us

Rachael Speck


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