The Blue Dove Foundation at The Branch 2023 Annual Meeting

All are welcome to The Branch (formerly Jewish Residential Services) as we explore the topic of traditional Jewish values – or middot – as a guide to eliminate the shame and stigma around mental illness. We welcome Justin Milrad, President and co-founder of the Blue Dove Foundation as our keynote speaker.

When it comes to mental health and addiction, no individual or group is immune. The Jewish community wrestles with these problems as much as the rest of society does. Through program, promotional, and support partnerships, The Blue Dove Foundation strives to transform the way the Jewish community understands and responds to mental illness and addictions. Both the Blue Dove Foundation and The Branch provide a mental health approach that combines dignity with awareness to move closer to a stigma-free environment and become sources of health and healing.

You can learn more about the Blue Dove Foundation here

Please join us for the 2023 Annual Meeting of The Branch at The Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse on October 26, 2023 at 7:00pm.

Dessert will be served. Dietary laws observed.

Please RSVP to or call 412-325-0039 by October 19, 2023.

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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Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month Profile: Sharon Shapiro

Sharon Shapiro lives in Charles Morris Hall on Munhall Road in Squirrel Hill and participates in Jewish Residential Services’ Supportive Living Program. This program provides ongoing support which allows participants with intellectual disabilities to live independently in their community.

Sharon, who has ADD, a cognitive disorder, and a seizure disorder, has been employee of Giant Eagle for the past 21 years, she also has an excellent job history. Her parents and job coach helped her find the job which, importantly, provided access to better health benefits.

She gathers carts at Giant Eagle, which can sometimes be physically taxing for her. However, when she comes home at the end of her shift or if she has a difficult day and feels the need to unwind, she knows exactly what to do: cook. “Cooking helps me get out the stress,” she explained.

Sharon’s grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, owned a restaurant in Whitehall for several years. Growing up, she would watch and help her grandfather cook. “He never wrote any recipes down. They were all from memory, so I make my own version of the food he used to make,” Sharon said.

When she talks about cooking, she lights up; cooking relaxes her. She loves to bring various dishes to social events in Morris Hall and experiment with new versions of old recipes.

“I wish I could have went to culinary school,” Sharon explained. “Because of the medicines I have to take, I don’t have a steady hand, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get a job cooking.”

Many people with disabilities share Sharon’s concerns and sense of discouragement. The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed 32 years ago,  prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and reasonable accommodations must be made to enable an individual to perform essential job functions. However, in 2020, only one-third of managers claimed to know the details of the ADA’s legal requirements. This makes it easy to see why people with disabilities perceive workplaces as inaccessible.

Although Sharon does not currently have her dream job in the culinary world, she does have work that adds structure to her day, provides her with the medical benefits she needs and gives her financial independence. She encourages anyone with a disability to speak to a job coach.  A job coach can help with interview practice, transportation planning, and support an individual in sustaining employment.

Click here to see virtual events taking place during Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month.

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Action alert: tell Senate to support the Build Back Better Act to improve the lives of people with disabilities

Congress recently passed a historic bill that can improve the lives of millions of people with disabilities who rely on home and community-based services. The bill is now awaiting passage by the Senate.  The Build Back Better Act would also improve the lives of direct support professionals and the loved ones of people with disabilities by: 

  • Expanding access to Medicaid home and community-based services
  • Creating a national paid leave program
  • Addressing the direct care workforce crisis, including raising wages
  • Improving and expanding the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program

Please take two minutes and click here to tell your Senator to support the Build Back Better Act to help
improve lives of people who need it the most. 

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Champion of inclusion: Jillian Zacks

Nominated by Achieva and Jewish Family and Community Services for her dedication to working for and with individuals with disabilities, Jillian Zacks will receive the Shore-Whitehill Award. This award is given annually by Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and Jewish Residential Services, an organization that supports individuals with psychiatric, developmental or intellectual disabilities, helping them to live, learn, work and socialize as valued members of the community.

The Shore-Whitehill Award, created in 1996 and named for Robert Whitehill and the late Barbara Shore who co-chaired a task force on special needs in the community, celebrates volunteers who promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in the fabric of Jewish life through advocacy or direct service to individuals and families.

Awardees are selected for the value of their contributions as champions of inclusion and the commitment of their nominating organization or group to publicly honoring them so they may serve as a springboard for change and inspire further action by others.

Jillian has served as the board chair for JFCS and The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh and as a board member for Achieva, Friendship Circle, and 21 and Able. In her job as an attorney, she specializes in Estate Planning, Special Needs Trusts, Guardianship, Estate Administration, and Orphans’ Court Matters. She has dedicated much of her career to assisting families in planning for the future of their loved ones with disabilities. In addition to her professional and volunteer roles, Jillian is a passionate advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities who has met with state and federal legislators to promote legislation that removes barriers to individuals with disabilities working and living in the community. 

As a mother to two adult children on the autism spectrum, Jillian has made it her life’s work to help and advocate for individuals with disabilities and their families. “Jillian has long been an advocate for individuals with disabilities, and this passion was more important than ever in the last two years during this pandemic,” explained JFCS President and CEO Dr. Jordan Golin. “She was instrumental in helping us to ensure that no one in the community was left behind during the transition to remote service delivery and that those with unique needs received unique interventions.”

Achieva Senior Vice President and The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh President Nancy Murray also recognized Jillian’s dedication to her work. “Jillian is a passionate, dedicated advocate and attorney who is devoting her legal work to educating, supporting and representing people with disabilities and their families,” Nancy expressed. “She knows firsthand how difficult it is for people with disabilities and families to obtain information, navigate through systems and get the services they need. That is exactly why Jillian devotes herself to advocating for and helping other families!”

Jillian will be presented the award by Robert Whitehill on February 16, 2022 at a luncheon event that will be followed by a virtual panel for parents of children with disabilities to discuss resources for transitioning into adulthood. More details to follow soon.

Click here to watch an interview with Jillian to learn more about her work in the community, and legal and financial special needs planning.


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Disability rights and the power of advocacy

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Did you know that you have the power to influence elected officials to pass legislation that betters the lives of people with disabilities? Watch Aaron Kaufman, Senior Manager of Legislative Affairs in Jewish Federation of North America’s Washington DC office, Laura Cherner, Director Community Relations Council at Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and Dr. Josie Badger, Disability Activist and Consultant, to learn what advocacy is all about, how it works and its importance to improving the lives of people living with disabilities. In this panel discussion, you will learn how you can get involved and have a direct impact.

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Disability inclusion and representation in the entertainment industry

In this interview, Lauren Appelbaum, the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media of RespectAbility, talks about disability inclusion in the entertainment industry, how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. Click here to watch the interview.

Links mentioned in the interview:
-Visibility of Disability: Answering the Call for Disability Inclusion in Media 
-New Survey: What Do Disabled U.S. Audiences Think Of Representation On Screen? 


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