Skokie Review: Keshet program offers local employment resources for learning-disabled adults

GADOL staff and team members converse Dec. 14, 2017 in Skokie before morning work begins. (Mike Isaacs / Pioneer Press)

The young adults gathered in Skokie before heading off to their morning jobs were exuberant about the day ahead and ready to share with the Keshet staff recent happenings in their lives.

Keshet, based in Northbrook, offers programs for over 1,000 children and adults with intellectual challenges, according to the organization’s website.

The GADOL program, which stands for “giving adults daily opportunities for living,” at Keshet provides vocational and life skills to those with learning disabilities. Every weekday, young adults ages 22 or older meet in Skokie before heading off to workplaces with a sense of purpose and confidence, program leaders say.

They return for lunch as some work part-time and others head off to new afternoon jobs.

“We have programs in a number of schools, but that’s the educational component,” said Keshet Board of Directors Chairman Shalom Klein, a Skokie resident. “These are adults ready to go to work. They all have jobs.”

GADOL is only one program under Keshet, which provides multiple services. Although the program is international, leaders say Keshet has a decidedly local presence within the Chicago area.

“Because we’re entrenched in the community, and we’re always out with work and taking care of community activities, we consider Skokie one of our major homes,” said Keshet CEO Abbie Weisberg, another Skokie resident.

On a December morning, Weisberg stopped by the GADOL space in Skokie, greeting “team members” — as Keshet refers to its participants. Some showed her art they had created, others gave a quick hug, a few more played games on computers and tablets they brought along.

“You can tell I’m here all the time,” Weisberg said. “I like to be where the action is and see what’s going on because it keeps us connected to our real mission.”

That mission is “to do whatever necessary to allow individuals with disabilities to achieve their potential,” according to the organization’s website.

More than 30 years ago, a small group of Jewish parents from Skokie and beyond sat around a kitchen table and raised concerns that there were not enough programs for the disabled, Weisberg said.

“Soon after we started, we gained national recognition,” she said. “We quickly understood there was a greater need, and we became known not for our Jewish programming — although that was always a key part of our mission — but as being a connector. We became a community.”

One workplace for a number of the GADOL adults is Milt’s Extra Innings, a kosher restaurant in Chicago. Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed opened first, employing disabled adults from Keshet, and then the new restaurant was added next door — in part to provide even more work opportunities for Keshet.

But team members also work in funeral homes, bookstores, pharmaceutical companies, car dealerships and more. In addition to Milt’s, Mariano’s, Chicago Jewish Funerals, Home Depot and Weinstein Funeral Homes reflect a sample of employers of Keshet adults, officials said.

Before the adults headed out for their jobs on this December day, art therapist Rita O’Hara worked with a small group at one of the tables. One adult in the program retrieved a watercolor rendering of colorful flowers leading to a peaceful empty bench that she wanted to show off.

“They do some beautiful work,” O’Hara said.

One challenge for the program, however, is cost, Weisberg acknowledged. “For every person we take in, there’s a $20,000 or $30,000 cost to the organization.”

Keshet runs two major fundraisers every year — a concert and a banquet — which raise close to $2 million.

“In reality, I’d like to raise closer to $4 million,” she said.

That way, GADOL could serve a lot more than 35 people.

Keshet’s educational programs can be found in schools throughout the Chicago area including in Skokie and Northbrook and Chicago. Keshet also runs camps, drawing children from all over the Chicago area and beyond. Keshet has been a consultant for other programs for disabled individuals organized in other countries, leaders say.

Keshet leaders say their success is based on programs that provide children and adults a chance to thrive and join together in a way they never did before.

“These kids are so connected in so many ways,” Weisberg said.”There is a sense of friendship, and they walk into whatever program they attend and they feel right at home.”

Don’t miss the Grand Opening Celebration of Milt’s Extra Innings!!

What does a Jewish Baseball Museum, delicious deli style food and building a more inclusive environment in Lakeview all have in common?
The answer is Milt’s Extra Innings, a new cRc certified Kosher restaurant that will:
Serve excellent deli-style food; celebrate the history of Jews in baseball
Be staffed by young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities through a partnership with Keshet GADOL, a not-for-profit dedicated to doing whatever is necessary to allow individuals with disabilities to achieve their potential.

Located at 3409 N Broadway (directly south of Milt’s BBQ for the Perplexed), Milt’s Extra Innings will offer cRc certified kosher food for takeaway/catering and casual in-restaurant dining.

On November 9th between 5pm and 9pm Milt’s Extra Innings will be having an open house celebration, including:
Tasting and tour of the newest addition to the Milt’s family, Milt’s Extra Innings
A few words from Abbie Weisberg, CEO, Executive Director of Keshet and Jeff Aeder, owner of Milt’s Extra Innings and Commissioner of the Jewish Baseball Museum.
Introduction to a mini-version of the Jewish Baseball Museum adorning the walls of Milt’s Extra Innings
Meeting some of the new players at Milt’s Extra Innings
Dedication of “In Tribute to Sam”
Given the philanthropic nature of the Milt’s family restaurants and the reality that this endeavor is expensive and unlikely to generate a profit (and if it did 100% of any profits would go to charity), we ask you to partner with us in this exciting new restaurant.

Details of the Event

When: Thursday, November 9th, 2017
Open House
5 pm or 9 pm

Where: Milt’s BBQ – 3411 N. Broadway
Milt’s Extra Innings – 3409 N. Broadway

Cost: $35 per person Attend the celebration
$100 per person VIP participation, Attend the
celebration plus receive a bag
of Milt’s Extra Inning swag
$500 for two Partner…. Attend the
celebration plus a bigger bag of
Milt’s swag, A hug from me

I am hoping for a great turn-out. Please “Click” on one of the following links to register and pay. Let us know whether you would like to PURCHASE A TICKET, be a VIP PARTICIPANT or be a PARTNER in this new venture. Hope to see you all on November 9th to enjoy good food and company and make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable.

Eater Chicago: A New Baseball-Focused Kosher Deli Will Open Soon Near Wrigley Field

Since 2013, Milt’s Barbecue For The Perplexed has given Chicagoans a popular option for kosher barbecue in Lakeview. However, Jews observing that set of religious dietary laws may want more than brisket and beef ribs. That’s why on Monday, Oct. 16 Milt’s plans to open Milt’s Extra Innings, a certified kosher deli next door to the barbecue restaurant at 3409 N. Broadway St. The space lets owner Jeff Aeder showcase his love for baseball and help those with special needs.

“One can’t live on barbecue alone,” said Aeder. Hence, his new spot will serve sandwiches, salads, and plenty of to-go options including take-home boxed meals.

Milt’s still keeps busy with its catering events and a food truck. Aeder is happy with business, but he still wants to show Chicago more than barbecue. Extra Innings customers will pick a style — like roasted roast beef with horseradish and caramelized onions — and again choose how they’ll enjoy the recipe, in either sandwich, wrap, or salad form.

Milt’s staff has kicked around the idea of expanding for almost four years. When Vietnamese restaurant BB Bun Mi’s lease was about to expire, they finally pounced this spring. They’ll cure their own meats, and Extra Innings will sell them in vacuum-sealed pouches for quick carry outs.

“We struggled to branch away from barbecue,” said front of house manager Eric Colón. “But we figured this was they way to do it.”

Aeder and chef Bryan Gryka are big Cubs fans and the restaurant is a short distance east of Wrigley Field. But Extra Innings isn’t a sports bar — it won’t serve alcohol and won’t stay open in the evenings. But it will show Cubs day games and other Chicago sporting events on TV. Anyone who’s walked around the original barbecue will notice the quirky baseball artifacts at the restaurant, as Aeder celebrates the select group of Jews who have played Major League Baseball, a group that includes Detroit’s Hank Greenburg and the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax. Aeder is also the commissioner of the Jewish Baseball Museum. The new restaurant gives him a space to display more of his massive collection of Jewish baseball memorabilia. The space will also feature a mural timeline tracking the history of Jews in the sport from 1860 until today. The timeline will also include updates on current players.

Milt’s donates all its profits to charity, sending money to faith-based groups including Friedman Place and the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. Extra Innings also has a charity in mind: Keshet GADOL Chicago. Keshet helps people with disabilities like Zahava Auerbach, Aeder’s 21-year-old niece. Gryka pitched the charity angle to Aeder, as he knew that Extra Innings is more a community spot rather than a money maker.

Extra Innings plans to hire some workers with special needs, hoping to give them real-world work experience and to prepare them for future employment. Auerbach was their first hire and will start out by greeting customers as a host.

“It will be great to educate the customer as they walk in,” said Josh Weisel, Extra Inning’s kitchen manager.

Next week’s opening day has an admission charge with speakers and a tasting. Meanwhile, Milt’s wants to ensure people know the restaurants aren’t just for Jews; management hires and serves people from all walks of life. Hopefully, the Cubs will be around for more playoff games when Milt’s Extra Innings opens next week.

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