Challenging childhood, mom’s devotion leads to flourishing program for developmentally disabled
Philadelphian Jonah Selber wakes up, goes to work and then returns home.
Occasionally, he makes dinner. Selber lives an ordinary life, but to those who know him, he is anything but ordinary.
Selber, 42, is developmentally disabled. At the time of his birth, Selber’s mother, Judith Creed, was told by a physician that he would be “retarded” and that she should “put him in an institutionalized home.” Creed said. “That was pretty traumatic.”
Selber’s childhood was challenging. He had scoliosis and did not walk until the age of 6, was unable to speak well and required multiple surgeries on his eyes.
“He really was a mess,” said Creed. “I lived in fear of what would become of him when he grew up. We dragged him around, and he couldn’t keep up with us. He was locked into his disability.”
As Selber aged, he became more functional.
When he turned 13, his mother made the difficult decision to send him away from their Philadelphia home to a school better suited to his abilities. Creed maintained that the school helped her son; the problem became what to do next.
“When he finished high school, I didn’t know what to do with him,” she recalled. “He aged out of the program, and there was nothing around for him to be productive.”
In 1987, along with other families facing similar dilemmas, Creed started the Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence (“JCHAI”). Originally, JCHAI was intended as a residential community geared toward helping adults with developmental disabilities live and flourish in a supportive home environment. According to its website, since its inception JCHAI has grown to operate three group homes, an apartment program and one-on-one in-home support as well as “social networks and multiple programs to individuals with developmental disabilities, brain injury and autism.”
Stacy Levitan, executive director of JCHAI, explained that it assists its clients in living “as full a life as possible.”
While the group homes offer overnight supervision, the apartments only provide staff between noon and 8 p.m. Clients in the apartments wake themselves, go to work and generally eat dinner together upon returning home. The staff assists clients with paying bills, laundry, grocery shopping and cooking.
“The staff is there when we are trying to teach skills,” said Levitan.
Selber, who lives in the apartments, is “very independent,” according to Levitan. “He’s a great guy, a lot of fun to be around and lives a very productive life in the community.”
For the past 17 years, Selber has been employed by Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia. As an office assistant in the hospital’s information systems department, Selber delivers important business documents and greets customers within the department.
Selber is beloved by his colleagues and supervisors. Several years ago, during a period of layoffs, Selber’s boss wrote a letter to the hospital’s board of directors explaining Selber’s value to the institution. As a result, his employment was protected.
In an interview with Respectability USA, Dwight Pedro Lewis, senior director of information systems at Jefferson, said that “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.”
While Selber is noted as a dedicated and reliable employee, he has also become a philanthropist. Two years ago, Selber gave $5,000 to Jefferson and another $5,000 to Philadelphia nonprofit Adults with Development Disabilities. Last year, he increased each gift to $7,500.
According to Creed, it was an easy decision for Selber to donate: “He knew that both organizations needed money,” she said.
“Jonah is just an amazing individual,” said Larry Rubin, executive director of ADD. “What else can you say about someone who’s terrific?
“It’s one thing for someone to understand firsthand what the organization does for others, but to turn around and give money to us [is] a vote of confidence that we’re doing the right thing and we can help more people,” he continued.
With Selber’s gift, ADD created the Jonah Selber Scholarship Fund. The scholarship offsets costs of membership and activities fees.
Rubin explained that this year, portions of the scholarship fund have been dispersed to 15 individuals.
“With his donation we can continue to grow and help more people,” Rubin said.
Creed isn’t surprised by her son’s generosity.
“He is naturally caring for other people,” she said. “Jonah is a great kid, great man.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.