Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse Welcomes New Director

The Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse welcomes its new director, Dr. Chrissy Whiting-Madison. Chrissy graduated with her BA in Psychology from Saint Vincent College, her MS in Rehabilitation Counseling from Langston University and her doctorate in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Arkansas. She currently maintains a CRC (Certified Rehabilitation Counselor).  Chrissy has worked in the Clubhouse world previously and also held the position of clinical director at a counseling agency in Tulsa, Oklahoma for many years. After spending several years in academia at Rogers State University, she is happy to return to her roots in the Clubhouse world here at Sally & Howard Levin Clubhouse. 

When she is not at the Clubhouse, Chrissy enjoys writing. She is the author of two books, Choosing Happiness and Even Happier (available anywhere books are sold), and numerous articles on humor, joy and positivity. She also enjoys traveling, thrift store shopping, and spending time with her husband, Matthew, daughter, Carina, and her cats!

Chrissy is thrilled to watch the Clubhouse grow and evolve into
the exemplary Clubhouse it is meant to be. She is looking forward to
expanding our social rehabilitation program, employment program, and so much
more.  “The incredible team here at SHLC (both members and staff alike) are
truly rock stars who all believe the sky is the limit for how much we can
accomplish together,” says Chrissy. 

Click here to learn more about the Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse.

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Mental Illness Depicted in the Arts

Popular culture has an important role to play in the public’s opinions and understanding of mental illness.  According to a source for entertainment news, “…having accurate portrayals of mental health in movies and TV shows can show people that they are not alone”.   Below are some examples of movies and TV shows that do a good job of reflecting reality:

What About Bob?  (1991) This film tells the story of Bob (Bill Murray) who has a massive list of phobias that interfere with his everyday life. Bob’s experience of experiencing such heavy anxiety that it impacts his daily life is relatable to anyone who has experienced something similar.

Girl, Interrupted   (1999) The autobiographical story of Susanna Kaysen’s experience of being hospitalized, and subsequently diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  Borderline Personality Disorder is still poorly understood, and frequently stigmatized. The fact that this was discussed so openly and in such an honest way in 2000 is a credit to Kaysen. The movie captures the sobering reality of hospitalization for mental illness.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) A film adaptation of a best-selling young adult novel depicts the main character Charlie’s depression in a nuanced, genuine way. Charlie’s romantic relationship with Sam (played by Emma Watson) doesn’t magically save him, but is one part of a support system that helps him navigate his mental illness.

BoJack Horseman, (2014-2020) an animated show that Time magazine called “the most important animated series since The Simpsons” shows both mental health struggles and moral dilemmas. Helmed by has-been actor Bojack, who suffers from a slew of addictions, his struggles are exacerbated by his off-the-rails drinking and self-destructive behavior. BoJack’s behavior isn’t simply the result of his alcoholism, but of neglectful and abusive parenting; inherited trauma is also illustrated poignantly in this series.

This is Us (2016 – 2022)  A television series which follows the lives of three siblings and their parents across the decades from the 1980s to the present day. The portrayal of mental illness through the character of Randall has been met with widespread praise from critics and fans alike. The show highlights Randall’s ongoing struggle with panic attacks and anxiety, as well as themes of addiction and grief through other characters. 


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The Intersection of Race, Disability and Religion: A First-Person Experience

Join The Branch and webinar speaker Asha Chai-Chang as she talks about the growing community of Jews who identify as Jews of Color. Born in Long Island as the Jamaican/Cuban/Chinese/Jewish daughter to immigrant parents, Asha is an Actuary by Trade turned Award-Winning Director/Writer with invisible disabilities.

Asha will create an open dialogue about being a person of color with multiple disabilities and speak about the intersectionality of being a Jew of Color with disabilities. She will also explore ways Jewish communities can increase visibility and create safe spaces for Jews of Color. Attendees will learn informative statistics and factual findings, have an opportunity to connect within the webinar, and walk away with new tools and best practices. 

Asha Chai-Chang is the Co-Founder for Slamdance Unstoppable, a program for disabled talent and filmmakers that educates through films, panels, and partnerships on ways we can address DEIA issues concerning participants, audience members, and submitters. Additionally, Asha is a Production Accessibility Coordinator, which often highlights the importance of disability accommodation requests in the entertainment industry. Her work in this industry informs practices that can be applied to organizations, businesses and communities.

Webinar date TBD. To register or for more information, contact

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Interview with the Co-Founder of JDAIM: Shelly Christensen

Shelly Christensen, MA, FAAIDD, is the Senior Director of Faith Inclusion at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Shelly is a pioneer and leader in the faith community disability and mental health inclusion movement. Her passion for this work is anchored by her experiences as the parent of a child with autism. Long before she was an emerging leader in the field, Shelly was trained as a parent advocate, unwaveringly holding the school accountable for her son’s rights to a free appropriate public education as mandated in the IDEA.  

After publication of her book, The Jewish Community Guide to Inclusion of People with Disabilities, she was in demand as a keynote speaker, trainer, and consultant for other communities. She founded Inclusion Innovations to expand her capacity to work with diverse faith-based organizations.

In 2009, Shelly co-founded Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). Through Shelly’s leadership, JDAIM is recognized around the world by local, national and international organizations.

Click here to see an interview about Shelly, how JDAIM came to be, and how you can get involved.

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The importance of altruism in our community

Many people served by JRS give back to their community by volunteering. JRS staff encourages those it serves to volunteer to be involved in the community, socialize, build confidence, and learn new skills applicable to everyday life. 

JRS places importance on volunteerism among those it serves because it offers a deeper understanding of the lives of people with disabilities and the value they bring, just as every individual brings, to the life of their community. This understanding encourages greater acceptance of diversity, greater compassion for people of all abilities, and greater cooperation in solving local as well as global challenges that affect us all.

Many organizations in the Jewish community have inclusive volunteering programs that make it possible for everyone to have an opportunity to give back: the Jewish Community Center (JCC), Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, JFCS, the Friendship Circle and Repair the World. Several JRS participants volunteer at various organizations throughout the community. 

Caryn (pictured above) has participated in the Supportive Living Program at JRS for 20 years. This program provides her with comprehensive individualized support based on her specific needs.

Every week for seven years, Caryn and her JRS direct support professional venture to the JCC to volunteer at the JCafe, a program of AgeWell Pittsburgh. The program was designed to ensure that everyone age 60+ gets a nutritious meal at no cost and that they don’t have to eat it alone. Instead, they socialize with their peers as part of a community. “Everyone who works at the JCC makes sure I have what I need in order to do my job well,” Caryn explained.

On a typical volunteer day, Caryn helps participants get their lunch, carries their trays to their table, and cleans up. She is attentive to all aspects of her job, whether it be restocking items the staff or diners need or thoroughly cleaning before lunch begins. 

“Caryn greets everyone with a smile and learns their names. She is always the first volunteer to arrive and immediately gets to work,” explained Caryn’s supervisor, Amy Gold.

Caryn also meets many people while she volunteers. “It is nice. When I walk around the area or take the bus, I will see people I know. We usually smile and say hello. It is a nice feeling,” Caryn said. “Volunteering makes me feel good. If I am having a bad day, I leave the JCC feeling good; feeling happy.”

Gary is also a long-time participant in JRS’ supportive living program. His volunteer work with AgeWell is slightly different than Caryn’s. Each week, Gary volunteers for the CheckMates program which is a volunteer peer-led telephone reassurance program. 

Volunteers who are 60+ make weekly phone calls to other older adults with the goal of offering a connection between volunteers and people in the community who may be homebound, isolated or lonely. Confidential phone calls are made once a week by volunteers at the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill and in the South Hills. 

Gary has volunteered his time to the CheckMates program for 12 years. “I think volunteering with CheckMates helps me more than it helps the people I call. I feel better helping people out there who have issues and problems. I can help talk through whatever they want to. When you help others, you help yourself,” said Gary,

His supervisor is also Amy Gold from the JCC. She speaks highly of his commitment and natural ability to connect to the people he contacts. “He does a great job and is reliable. The people he checks in with really enjoy talking to him. They rely on and look forward to his calls every week.”

Amy explains that there are many benefits to the AgeWell volunteer program for both volunteers and participants. 

“I love what AgeWell does as a whole and that it is a collaboration between the JCC, JFCS and the Jewish Association on Aging as well as volunteers. We can help older adults remain independent, connecting them with the resources they need,” explains Amy. 

And, as Gary says, “When you help others, you help yourself.”

If you are interested in learning more about the volunteer program at the JCC, please contact Amy Gold at or 412.697.3528.


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Review: He’s My Brother

This documentary is a candid, moving exploration of one family’s efforts to ensure a rich, dignified life for Peter, born with multiple disabilities.  Peter, 30 years old, is deaf, blind and has autism. His sister Christine describes how he experiences his world exclusively through touch, smell, and taste.  Numerous family films chronicle her tender relationship with him throughout their childhood.  The documentary demonstrates the very loving ways the family provides a rich, connected and stimulating environment for Peter in the face of significant challenges, and their struggles to find a setting which will assure him a dignified life once the parents are gone. Christine and her mother openly discuss her uncertainties about one day becoming his primary caregiver. While documenting the failings of government systems to provide adequate support to individuals like Peter, the film is also a testament to the fierce devotion of family caregivers. 

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I Volunteer program

The Friendship Circle, JRS, Repair the World, Chabad Young Professionals, and Chabad on Campus are partners in the I Vounteer program; an inclusive volunteer program that happens about four times a year for adults 18-45 years old. The program’s goal is to bring together young adults in the Pittsburgh community to volunteer in an inclusive way. 

The program connects young adults from various partner organizations to socialize while giving back to their community. When we give back together, we build community. I Volunteer also helps the community by supporting local businesses and organizations and uplifting community members. 

Below are the tentative dates for upcoming I Volunteer programs: 
-September 12th 6pm-7:30pm
-December 12th 6pm-7:30pm
-April 4th 5pm-7:30pm
-June 22nd 6pm-7:30pm


For information on how to get involved with I Volunteer, contact Paige Eddy, Adult & Partnerships Coordinator at The Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh at 412-224-4440 ext. 111 or


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Call for Nominations: Do you know a champion of disability inclusion?

The Shore-Whitehill Award, named for Barbara Shore and Robert Whitehill, celebrates those who are dedicated to disability inclusion in the Jewish community.

Do you know someone who is a champion of inclusion of people of all abilities in the Jewish community? Do you want to celebrate their contributions? We are looking to celebrate their accomplishments and passion for inclusion.

Who can be nominated?

• A volunteer working in the Jewish community.

• A paid professional working in the Jewish community who has gone above and beyond to support inclusion outside of their working hours.

• An individual who promotes inclusion within the Jewish community but is not associated with a specific organization (i.e., landlords, caregivers, first responders, business owners).

• A person who is Jewish or non-Jewish.

Who can nominate a champion?

Anyone! Nominations can come from an individual, on behalf a congregation, organization, business, or group.

What do I need to do to nominate someone?

It’s easy, just complete this brief online form.  Nominations must be received by September 30th.

What happens next?

The recipient of the 2023 Shore Whitehill Award will be honored at an inclusion event to be held during Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, February 2023. This event will be organized by Jewish Residential Services with input from the nominator(s).

Click here to nominate a champion of disability inclusion!


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Inclusive Volunteering Toolkit

Society has become increasingly interested in volunteerism. Studies have shown that there are a lack of volunteer opportunities for people with disabilities . Our community must strive to have inclusive volunteer programs, as there are many benefits to all.

Benefits to all volunteers included pride, skill development, empowerment, and increases communication. Having an inclusive volunteer program helps people without disabilities have a positive attitude change and increased social interaction toward people with disabilities leading to a greater understanding of what it is like to live with a disability. Simply said, volunteering brings people from all walks of life together, as long as there are not barriers for certain populations to participate.

Do you want to learn more about how to make your volunteer program more inclusive?

Click here to view ARC’s Inclusive Volunteering Tool Kit


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A Conversation About Mental Illness and Stigma

People with mental health diagnosis experience stigma and discrimination that can make their symptoms  worse and make it harder to recover or even seek treatment. Risa and Jan discus their mental health journeys and the stigma they have experienced throughout their lives. Click here to watch their conversation. 

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