Valued JNF employee overcomes disability
Rachel Epstein, valued JNF employee, overcomes disability by working at JNF's Boca Raton administrative office
Rachel Epstein's parents — Leonard Epstein and Sherry Deutsch Epstein — were once told by an educator in New Jersey that she had no chance of ever learning anything and they should just give up on that aspect of her life.
Luckily, the Epsteins didn't listen to this negative judgment of Rachel's abilities and today Rachel, 25 — though she has some auditory processing difficulties and is on the autism spectrum — is able to hold down a full-time job as an office assistant at Jewish National Fund's (JNF) South Florida administrative office in east Boca Raton and is a valued employee there.
Rachel said in a recent email: "I was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at a young age and school was not always easy as it takes me longer than most to process information — but through hard work, and a strong support system, I was able to excel.
"Finding a job was very difficult but I was given the opportunity at JNF in August of 2015 and from the beginning, my staff has been very supportive and kind. I am respected and treated like family and am able to work independently. I am never treated badly because of my disability."
Elissa Stern, director of JNF's South Florida administrative office, known as the Center of Excellence, said: "Rachel is a great employee. She is always on time, has a great work ethic, does impressive work for us and provides much valuable information for our organization."
Rachel spent her early years growing up in Hopewell Township, New Jersey. She said that school was not always easy for her, but she excelled at spelling and concrete mathematic operations and read as well as her peers — although reading comprehension could be challenging as it can take her longer than most to process information.
In 2010, the Epsteins moved to Boynton Beach and Rachel was able to continue learning and improving her social and communication skills at the Gulfstream Goodwill Charter School until age 22 — a year longer than what was offered in New Jersey.
Rachel said: "I had earned more than the required credits for a regular high school diploma in New Jersey, but my parents thought this move was the right decision for our family. Primarily, there was no public transportation system in the county — and I did not want to rely on anyone to get to and from work.
"School here not only provided educational support, but also gave me the opportunity to intern at several different companies using Palm Tran Connection — a door-to-door transportation service. I am in charge of scheduling my rides for work and entertainment with Palm Tran.
"I quickly learned that I enjoy and do well in jobs involving computer and technical work, such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint — and hoped that after school I could apply those skills to create a growing meaningful career and contribute to society. I do well with repetitive, time-consuming charts and tables that require great attention to detail.
"From the beginning, the JNF Boca staff have been very supportive and compassionate. Not only is this an organization where I am respected and treated like family, but with the support of my co-workers, I have been able to work independently and have learned to set goals for myself. At times, I work with sensitive information and I value that trust given to me.
"I cannot express how much I appreciate the chance to work and make a difference here at JNF. I feel as though the staff understands me — and they work to enhance my strengths and support me as I work to my potential!"
Rachel's father, Leonard, had a big hand in getting her the job at JNF. Leonard had joined JNF's Task Force on Disabilities earlier in 2015 and is a President's Society member of the organization.
Leonard reached out to Robin Rappaport Dermer, JNF's Florida director of planned giving, who arranged for Rachel to be interviewed with JNF. Rachel independently participated in the interview process and was subsequently offered a position with JNF.
"Working at JNF allows Rachel to really reach her potential. She has proven to be an asset to our work," said Dermer in a recent email. "And Rachel is certainly happy with her position at JNF where she assists in data entry, creating spreadsheets and helping her colleagues prepare for JNF events in the Boca Raton area."
Rachel also receives plenty of support from Victoria Sapone, unit director of supported living at the Palm Beach Habilitation Center in Lake Worth. Sapone will be instrumental in helping Rachel to transition out of the Epsteins' home when the right supports are in place and Rachel is ready to go.
Leonard commented in a recent email: "I think working at JNF is a wonderful opportunity for Rachel at an astounding organization. Rachel is able to experience the rewards of working and having the opportunity to prepare to one day live on her own and be a productive member of society.
"Yes, we had to make sacrifices and accommodations to raise Rachel. We advocated for her with schools for placements and related services in her best interests. We gladly did what needed to be done. We are hoping that with some supports in place, she will be able to live independently.
"Rachel makes her own bus trips, and goes out with friends to the movies, the mall and restaurants. Rachel really enjoyed the classes she took at the South Tech adult school.
"We would love for Rachel to advance into more challenging jobs that utilize more of her computer skills, and we wish for Rachel what all parents wish for their children — that they be happy, find love and live a long fruitful life."
Story by Randall P. Lieberman
Photo by Beth Black