NCJW Pittsburgh has been advocating for and working to improve the lives of people living with disabilities for over a century. Thanks to strong community partnerships, much of that work lives on today.
NCJW’s programing for populations with physical, learning, and mental health challenges began in 1909 with our organization of the Committee for Jewish and Non-Jewish Blind. The committee’s goals were to provide workshops for employment, a sales platform for items made by clients, an employment bureau, home teachers, and socialization and educational opportunities. Recognizing the magnitude of the need, NCJW joined with organizations from the “Congress of Clubs” to found the Pittsburgh Organization for the Adult Blind. That organization was the precursor for the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind.
Our work continued in 1929 when NCJW founded the League for the Handicap, a program to train and employ men with disabilities. Providing opportunities for training in various trades and developing skills for employment, this program raised self-confidence and prospects for employment. NCJW spun this program off to the United Vocational Employment Service, which later became the Vocational Rehabilitation Center.
In 1945, the Cerebral Palsy Recreational Work Program opened. The Pittsburgh Board of Education expanded the program, and it became the Pioneer School for Handicapped Children. This school continues to serve our special needs children as Pioneer School.
Other projects included a nursery school for deaf children opened in 1952 and a Learning Disabilities Project that offered testing and remediation for children in the public schools in 1969.
Our current work with special needs teens and adults takes place at our retail store, Thriftique. For the past 12 continuous years, Thriftique has provided weekly socialization, volunteer opportunities, and skill building work for students from the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Greensburg area. Organizations providing care for the special needs community, including Achieva, Pressley Ridge, and Friendship Academy, send students with caregivers to work at the store. Our internship program with Howard Levin Club is very special, and we are honored that the Howard Levin Club has recognized NCJW/Thriftique several times with the Exceptional Employer Recognition Award. Thriftique is also home to the annual Project Prom boutique, a project that supplies prom gowns and accessories to high school students receiving services from the Allegheny Department of Human Services.
NCJW Pittsburgh’s legacy is one not just of good work done, but of the power of partnerships to expand and continue work for decades. These partnerships allow us to accomplish far more together than any of us could alone.
We invite you to join us on June 7 to celebrate those partnerships at our 125th Celebration!
Special thanks to board member and past president Hilary Spatz for preparing these articles on NCJW Pittsburgh’s history as part of our ongoing celebration of our 125th anniversary.