Man with a disability succeeds at work, will give thousands to charities that gave him job, friends
Philadelphia, PA. Jonah Selber, who was born with a developmental disability, is a longtime, successful employee of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals where he serves as an office assistant in the Information Systems Department. He loves his job and never takes it for granted. Unlike 70% of working age Americans with disabilities who are out of the workforce, Jonah has been working for 17 years delivering important business documents and greeting customers in the Information Systems service center at one of the nation’s top hospitals.
Mr. Dwight Pedro Lewis, Senior Director of Information Systems at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals hired Jonah in 1997. That hire has proven to be a mutually-beneficial fit.
“Jonah has grown since 1997. He works independently and navigates the campus better than I. Jonah has also made us better. We really think about what we’re asking, which has enhanced our communication skills. We’re proud that our staff is more diverse and more inclusive,” said Lewis.
“Jonah brings so many talents and skills to the workplace – Attention to detail, focus, and meticulousness. If it needs to be done by 10 a.m., it will be done by 10 a.m., not 10:05.”
More than 9 million Americans ages 18-64 with disabilities are outside the workforce and live on disability benefits. In Pennsylvania there are 237,526 people ages 18-64 with disabilities who live on government benefits. Jonah instead is a taxpayer. He is a responsible worker with many friends and is grateful for the many opportunities in his life. Thus, when he had a chance to direct giving from a local foundation, he decided to give seven thousand dollars to his employer, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals’ Jefferson Foundation, and an additional seven thousand dollars to Adults with Disabilities (ADDPA.org), which offers social opportunities to people with disabilities. ADD will use the funds to start the Jonah Selber Scholarship Fund and will honor Selber and others at an upcoming event on May 5th.
Jonah was born in 1973. His first few decades of life were marked with enormous struggle and chaos. When he aged out of his school programs, his parents searched the country for a program that would teach him independent living skills while giving him a sense of home and belonging.
In 1991, Jonah’s mother, Judith Creed, a dynamo community organizer, helped create JCHAI, Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence. It was her goal not only to help her son, but others like him who deserved the dignity and sense of community that other people often take for granted. When JCHAI opened their first group home, Jonah became one of their first residents. Since then dozens of Pennsylvania residents have been able to achieve a better life because of JCHAI. Indeed, as word spread of the success of the program that Jonah inspired, others from around the country have moved to Pennsylvania to be a part of JCHAI.
With the help of JCHAI, Jonah got his first job at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. Back when he was first hired, few organizations and employers enabled people with disabilities to achieve the American dream. Even today a recent Princeton study shows that most Americans do not see people with disabilities as being capable. However, a number of companies have now proven that hiring people with disabilities can be great for business as they can make extremely loyal and talented workers. Shining examples of this model includeWalgreens, AMC Theaters, Ernst & Young, Office Max, and Toys R Us and others.
JCHAI trained Jonah to use public transportation so he could get to his job independently and taught him about dressing appropriately for work. He learned to navigate his community and make plans himself to go out with his new friends. Eventually, Jonah learned enough that he felt ready to move out of the group home and into a supported apartment, also run by JCHAI. He has advanced in his work at Jefferson and has become a role model for dozens of other adults with disabilities who are involved with JCHAI and also now have jobs.
Jonah now lives with a roommate in a two-bedroom apartment and they have several friends in the building. He gets himself to work every day, takes care of his apartment, cooks and cleans and makes his own social plans. He is a valued employee who gets paid a good salary, with benefits that include vacation and personal days and a retirement plan.
Mr. Lewis said, “Jonah has become part of our family. We all support and coach Jonah. And he supports all of us.”
He has made friends at work, at JCHAI, and ADD. When asked about what he likes most, Jonah says, “I like having my own life and dealing with my own situation.” He is pleased to be able to offer scholarships for others so they can have the opportunities, outings and friendships he has shared.