On Motivation: For the Love of Our Children
Marcia Cohodes is a a Wexner Heritage Alumna from Minneapolis and member of the Wexner Alumni Forum She is retired from a career in investment banking. She is an advocate for individuals with disabilities in the Jewish community and a member of the UJC Disability Workgroup. She can be reached at email@example.com.
In 1993, our oldest child was born and, as I held this tiny miracle of life, I imagined the wonderful opportunities he would have as part of the fabric of our local Jewish community. At 19 months, he was diagnosed with autism and my hopes for opportunities were replaced with fears of non-acceptance. Soon after, two things became apparent: the concept of “inclusion” was nowhere on the radar of the community and there needed to be community-wide acceptance of this concept in order for our son to be/feel a part of the community. My incentive to step up and take a leadership role was fueled by the desire to give our son an equal opportunity in the Jewish community.
After chairing the Inclusion Advisory Committee and co-chairing a task force resolving equitable funding for inclusive Jewish education, it was noted that funding for the position of Community Inclusion Coordinator was short-term and special education funding was all but non-existent. Coinciding with this, the community was winding up a $30+ million capital campaign, with no proceeds earmarked for special needs funding.
Balancing a passion to effect change and the reality of community politics, I asked the capital campaign co-chairs for guidance on how to help children with special needs and their families; explaining the need for a permanent community coordinator, resources for special education funding and seed money to initiate new programs. Two years later, an endowment originally slated for collaborative programs was re-named “Special Needs and Collaborative Education” and I was asked to chair it in 2006.
Today, this endowment provides funding for the Community Inclusion Coordinator, Special Needs Education and Darkaynu, a weekly education program for Jewish teens with autism and cognitive disorders.