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 Special Needs Program at the JCC in Squirrel Hill provides afternoon programming for teens and young adults who face physical, intellectual or mild emotional and behavioral challenges.
Participants must have independent toileting skills and be able to come to the Gesher Special Needs Program room on their own or be dropped off by their parent or caregiver—the JCC does not provide an escort.
Young people of all backgrounds are welcome to be a part of the group. Jewish holidays are observed, the group learns about Jewish traditions and special Jewish holiday meals are shared.
We provide focused attention to each participant with an emphasis on growth and the development of life skills. Our friends learn the importance of teamwork, independence and relationship-building while enjoying the JCC’s fully equipped meeting rooms, dance studios, gymnasiums and swimming pools. Our facilities provide the appropriate setting for a full and enriching afternoon. Kosher snacks are offered each day.
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
- 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.
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 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 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.