ETHESDA (Md.) –– There was a lot of activity at Congregation Beth El on the morning of Sunday February 13. There must have been 500 children in the Hebrew school, with many of their parents as well, connecting with their Jewish tradition. In addition to this usual gathering, however, a panel discussion on inclusive employment was taking place in a separate room.
The first speaker was Ken Karbeling, the general manager of America Reprographics, Inc., a Rockville-based company that offers a variety of reprographic solutions including traditional copying, scanning and printing as well as a variety of online tools. He talked about his company’s collaboration with The Ivymount School, a Rockville school that strives to help children, students and young adults with disabilities achieve their highest level of development and independence, and have the students work at his company.
Karbeling went ahead with his decision to have Ivymount students work at his company despite the initial skepticism of co-workers with concerns ranging from liability issues to the disruptive noises the students might make. He soon found the arrangement to be beneficial not just for the students, but for his employees as well. The staff developed a sense of pride after showing the students how to perform tasks like making FedEx tubes, and they came to appreciate the presence of the students. They appreciated being addressed by name and they marveled at the dedication, focus and progress of the students. Ken said that he wouldn’t have previously described his staff as “kind, gentle, patient and nurturing,” but that is indeed the affect that this experience had on them.
As for the students, they developed both “soft skills and hard skills,” learning how to conduct themselves in a professional environment and developing expertise in a variety of tasks such as data entry and filing, as well as bonding with the employees.
Karbeling has worked with 30-45 Ivymount students over the years and while he says he is not sure we “are making a huge difference,” he is quietly setting the standard for other small businesses to follow. He has met with other like-minded businesses about expanding this idea; he believes it is important for others to follow suit and invites anyone interested to visit his office and observe the work environment.
The next speaker was the impressive Justice Richard Bernstein. Justice Bernstein is the first blind Judge to be elected to the Michigan Supreme Court. He is also a marathon runner, a triathlete and former Michiganian of the Year and a National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame inductee, according to an article by Marci Ruderman in Congregation Beth El’s “The Scroll.” He had an impressive air about him; you could sense he had a heightened awareness of his surroundings, and he was articulate and polished. He had declined to be the sole speaker, and instead asked that a few others–– including Ken and Lisa Handelman, Community Disability Inclusion Specialist for the Jewish Federation–– join him as part of a panel discussion.
During the discussion, Justice Bernstein stressed the importance of working extremely hard to earn your position and to avoid complaining or feeling entitled to your specific circumstance. He talked about how he would work 15-hour days to earn his position and he utilizes one additional clerk to help him memorize his cases so that he can adequately defend the law to the best of his ability. He exclaimed that it was his duty to make sure that the others on the court didn’t feel delayed or inhibited by his presence. After all, if they didn’t end up valuing his opinion, he wouldn’t be able to appropriately represent the law, which would not be fair to his constituents.
Justice Bernstein wrapped up by talking about an initiative he has been working on in Israel to help the IDF incorporate people with various disabilities. Other organizations can learn much from his strategic implementation of the initiative. He coordinated joint marathon-type events to demonstrate that folks with disabilities are in fact highly capable, and he started with the Israeli Air Force–– the premier division of the IDF–– so that others would follow suit.
This event was an inspiring reminder of how far people can go and how much can be done to both learn from and help others continue to fulfill their potential.