Our Story

Thinking big right from the start

In 1982, a group of Chicago area parents sat around a kitchen table discussing how they might help their children, all with various disabilities, find a welcoming place in the community where they felt they belonged. Those founding families could never have dreamed what Keshet would quickly become. Within a year, they had organized a Sunday School, and as the children got older, they saw there was need to create additional programming around them. By 1988, a short 6 years later, Keshet was opening an entire elementary school, creating educational opportunities and support for many children with disabilities and special needs.

The spirit behind this growth is still seen today as Keshet scales in capacity and depth right alongside our participants and their families.

Our Beliefs

Community

Children and adults with disabilities deserve and have every right to be part of the wider community in ways that they choose to be involved. Keshet provides the support for people to access opportunities to live full and meaningful lives in their home communities.

Inclusion

At Keshet, inclusion is a mindset, not a program, that shapes values, culture and decisions. Inclusion is about how we treat each other, whose voices are heard and our vision for the future. When inclusion is embraced, it is a process that leads to the ultimate goal of belonging.

Family

We recognize that family involvement is critical to Keshet’s success, and the success of our participants. It’s why family engagement in all areas of our programing is an important value driving our growth.

Dream Big

It takes courage and vision, but Keshet is driven to dream bigger, build better and accomplish more for our participants, their families, our staff and the community. Dreaming big means building a future where we’ll always be here for our families—creating and improving programs and environments that will grow as our children grow into adults.

We Don’t Say No. We Only Say How.

Parents and families never want to hear “no” for an answer. Neither does the community, our partners and our peers. Keshet has always looked for answers to near impossible issues because we know, in the end, it drives participant connection and success, program growth, staff engagement, and it literally says, there’s no limit to what we’ll be able to do together.

Access

No participant should be turned away for inability to pay for services. We tirelessly strive to collaborate with donors, foundations and program partners to keep tuitions reasonable and scholarships available.

Community involvement drives Keshet’s impact

Keshet creates an invigorating and loving environment for children, teens and adults with special needs and disabilities. Consisting of over 75 programs, 3 residences, 200 dedicated staff, dozens of partners and corporate contributors, and thousands of engaged donors around the world, few organizations compare to Keshet. Through inclusive programs, community involvement and consultations, Keshet's impact expands far beyond the 600 participants served each year with one goal in mind: creating communities of belonging.

Drawing from the engaged, diverse and dynamic community around us, Keshet continues to grow in support and impact for our families. Thanks to our great donors, staff, partners and volunteers, great things really can come from small beginnings.

68

Community partnerships with organizations, synagogues and businesses

2800

Generous annual donors

127

Active volunteers in all programs ranging in age from 9-94

4000

School and camp peers, volunteers, family members, coworkers and friends impacted each year

Keshet’s history is a story of vision, creativity, tenacity and growth

1982

Keshet Is founded by a group of parents

1983

Parent support meetings, holiday events, family picnics and community awareness events are held

1984

Keshet Sunday School opens with 12 students at Beth Hillel Synagogue in Wilmette

1986

Keshet opens first professional office; Summer Kallah Camp begins at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute

1988

First Bar Mitzvah celebrated at Keshet; Day school opens; $150,000 annual budget

1989

Inaugural Keshet Banquet featuring the integrated choir; Keshet's first summer at JCC day camp

1992

Teen Camp begins; Formal camp partnership begins with JCC Chicago

1993

Keshet Day School opens at Bais Yaakov and Hillel Torah; Overnight camp begins at Camp Moshava

1994

Young Leadership Board is created; Ariella Joy Frankel Day School moves into new home at Solomon Schechter Day School

1995

Keshet High School opens at Ida Crown Jewish Academy; $1,250,000 annual budget

1997

Keshet Vocational Program begins; Keshet participates in Special Olympics for the first time; Camp Chi welcomes its first camper with Keshet support

1998

Vocational program expands into community job sites; Transition program begins

2002

Keshet's full day GADOL program opens for adults with developmental disabilities; $2,900,000 annual budget

2003

First Keshet Buddy Baseball game is played; Keshet grandparent group is formed

2006

First Winter Camp experience takes place; Summer camp partnerships expand to 11 communities

2007

Avodah, Keshet's vocational program at Camp Chi, begins; Avodah is later named one of the most innovative programs in the country by Slingshot; First-ever young adult Shabbaton takes place

2010

Keshet KJ Cafe opens; First preschoolers are supported by Keshet in inclusive classrooms $5,500,000 annual budget

2015

First residential MY Life home opens; Pritzker Pucker Inspire Center is created for consulting services; Keshet Buddy Bowling begins

2016

Buddy Basketball begins with two seasons; Keshet serves over 170 campers 16 inclusive camps

2017

SOAR is launched to provide community service opportunities for adults on Sundays; Keshet partners with BBYO; First Buddy Basketball all-star game played at Welsh-Ryan Arena

2018

Second MY Life home opens; Keshet provides supported housing for 14 residents

2020

Keshet's third MY Life residential home opens; Keshet begins offering virtual programming; $9,100,000 annual budget

Mom, dad and son holding hands as they walk down a path at Keshet Family Camp.

Growing today, here for our families far into the future

The need to support those with disabilities continues from childhood into adulthood and beyond. It’s why Keshet’s vision is to be there for our families and participants throughout their lifetimes.

Five staff of different races and nationalities standing in a sukkah. One person is holiding a lulav and etrog.

The Keshet team. A family approach.

Many different skills. Many different backgrounds. Many different passions. But our team has one thing in common that draws them together…the belief that, at Keshet, they can support our participants and their families to live their best lives.

Our Mantra: Forever Growing

Each word equally represents our past, who we are today, and the impact we will have in the future.

Forever: We are building today, so we can be here forever…for all our participants, for our communities, for our families and as a model and inspiration for all.

Growing: Growing our family, our programs, our footprint, our impact, our influence, our connection, our team, our ability to inspire, our participants, our leadership and so much more.

Keshet. Forever Growing. It’s a powerful, and inspirational message to our families, to our communities, and to ourselves. And our mantra that drives us forward every day.

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