Like many folks in Metro Detroit, I have family members with developmental disabilities, including a nephew with autism and a goddaughter with Down syndrome. So, it always makes me feel good to read about those individuals who devote their lives and energies to helping children who face challenges in their lives.
An essay by Robert Sklar, former JN editor, in the Oct. 2, 2008, issue focused on one of these individuals: Joyce Keller.
Sklar wrote about Keller when she was about to retire from JARC, which began as the “Jewish Association for Residential Care,” a nonprofit organization that served people with developmental disabilities. It was founded in 1969 and still serves nearly 200 residents in 80 locations today. This is a pretty impressive run for an organization formed by seven parents concerned about challenged children.
Keller earned degrees from the University of Michigan and Harvard University. She tried teaching as a profession, but that was not for her. When Keller was in high school, she and her B’nai B’rith chapter visited Coldwater State Hospital. Seeing the treatment of challenged people firsthand was a life-changing experience. As Keller related, “The only way I can describe what happened to me that day is that a seed was planted in my soul and a seedling took root.”
This was also a very good moment for Detroit’s Jewish community. After working for JVS (formerly Jewish Vocational Services) for three years, Keller arrived at JARC, when, as founding board member Norman Wachler said, “She was just a kid in her 20s.” She spent the next 30 years as the CEO of JARC and, during her tenure, JARC increased its presence from one residential home to 60, and three staff members to 230. In short, Keller is one of those people who make a difference in the world and, in particular, in the Jewish world in Detroit.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.