Feature Stories

Conversation with…Alissa Korn and Linda LaPointe

Springfield JCC celebrates Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month with films and photo exhibit

By Stacey Dresner

SPRINGFIELD – February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month (JDAM) and to honor JDAM locally this year, the Springfield JCC’s Kehillah Special Needs Programs, working with Velcro 100 Cameras Project, New England Business Associates and Diane Troderman, brought The Fourth Annual ReelAbilities: Boston Film Festival to Springfield.

The VELCRO® Brand100 Cameras Project places modified camera systems into the hands of people with disabilities, offering a new way to express and share their lives through a once inaccessible art form.

This year, the festival offered a variety of compelling stories and covered diverse themes, from the inspiration of travel to the transformative role of music. The Springfield opening, held Feb. 19 at the JCC, featured a screening of “Shooting Beauty,” an award-winning documentary that chronicles the beginning of Courtney Bent’s experimental photography program.

On closing night, Monday, March 2 at 7 p.m., Diane Troderman, in honor of Best Buddies and JCC Kehillah Special Needs Program, will present the documentary “Wampler’s Ascent,” directed by Jacques Spitzer. Steve Wampler, who has cerebral palsy, must do 20,000 pull-ups to climb the famous El Capitan Mountain in Yosemite.  The founder of a camp for children with disabilities, he undertakes the journey to prove that anything is possible.  However, the harrowing climb tests Steve’s considerable humor, will, and determination.

According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, which advocates for the advance of inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the Jewish community, “Our community thrives when we make the fullest and fairest use of each person’s potential. The world cannot afford to squander anyone’s contribution. The Jewish community is particularly sensitive to the perils of lost potential. Yet as a society, when we do not fully include individuals with disabilities, we are all poorer for it.  People with disabilities need and deserve the same opportunities as everyone else, and every community needs and deserves their contributions. Inclusion is fair, essential and strengthens us all.”

The Jewish Ledger spoke about Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month and the films and photo exhibit with Alissa Korn, a former board member of the JCC and current member of the Kehillah Committee, and Linda LaPointe, special needs coordinator at the JCC.

Q: What is Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month?

LINDA LAPOINTE: Since 2009, February has been officially known as Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month (JDAM).   The mission of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month is to unite Jewish communities and organizations for the purpose of raising awareness and supporting meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in every aspect of Jewish life.


Q: What can people in the community expect from VELCRO® Brand100 Cameras exhibit?

LP: We have seen all the movies and we finished putting the remaining photographs up Thursday. My perspective is that some of the pictures need to be seen first with gut feeling and then viewed again imagining yourself as someone who has a disability.  All of a sudden a ramp to a home becomes the focus rather than the picture as a whole.  Access is something we all take for granted…imagining life without it and how much it would limit your world puts the picture in a new perspective.

The Springfield JCC exhibit is the result of a collaborative effort of Baystate Health’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.  When visiting this exhibit you will see nine photographers’ ideas of beauty.  The images are shot from a unique perspective and include portraits, landscapes and themes/motifs.


Q: Why was “Wampler’s Ascent” chosen to be screened in Springfield? How is Diane Troderman involved in the program?

ALISSA KORN: I previewed numerous short and long films for the Springfield Reelabilities Film Festival in an effort to determine which would be best to show to our audience. I was so inspired by Steve Wampler’s life that I felt that this film had to be shown. Steve has struggled with physical disabilities his entire life but somehow manages to maintain a positive spirit, a drive to pursue seemingly unattainable goals and help children with cerebral palsy, all at the same time. Founding a camp for children with special needs, Steve is truly an inspiration to all. I cried after this film, with tears of relief, joy and respect!

Diane Troderman asked to participate in funding the Reelabilities Film Festival after attending the viewings of several Reelabilities films last year in New York City. She was so moved and inspired by the individuals in the films that she wanted to make the films accessible to members of the Springfield community. She has generously underwritten the costs of “Wampler’s Ascent.”


Q: The Springfield JCC and Kehillah are doing wonderful things for those with disabilities.  Can you comment on Kehillah and all that it has and continues to do for the community?

AK: Kehillah (the JCC’s Special Needs program) is vital to our area as it provides after-school and weekend recreational and social activities for young children, teens and adults with special needs. There is really no other comprehensive program in the greater Springfield area. Programs range from swimming, basketball, bowling and Fitness Buddies to social outings, music classes and Best Buddies. Many people with different abilities do not have typical social and recreational opportunities. Kehillah offers such programs and thereby gives this population an opportunity to experience activities that mainstream kids do on a regular basis.

For the reasons stated above Kehillah is such an important part of our community – allowing people of different abilities (both physical and intellectual) an opportunity to experience life as others do. N



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