Amazing Happens Here

by Jennifer Phillips, CEO and President

Wow! Thank you all for joining us tonight. I love these opportunities when we can all come together. They feel even more special now after so many years of being distanced.

I’ve been told that CEOs should talk about statistics and metrics and balance sheets and revenue. If you would have told me three years ago that I would become a numbers person, I would have never believed you. In fact, prior to becoming CEO, the only positive thing I could say about math was that I met my husband, Scott, in a math class at University of Kansas in 1991.

We’ve both come a long way since then, and tonight I am excited to talk about numbers as long as I can do it “The Jen Way.”

And, so it all starts with a recent lunch at a local restaurant.

At a nearby table was Jaden, one of our overnight campers, with a camp staff member and a woman I didn’t know. We waved and smiled. As they were getting up to leave, the woman came over and introduced herself and said, I hear you are with Keshet, and her eyes filled with tears.

She’s an occupational therapist and works with a few of our families. She wanted me to know the difference that Keshet makes in our community. She said that every June she sees these kids go away to overnight camp with us and come back different people—grown up, responsible, more communicative. She said there is nothing like Keshet anywhere else. That we show the world what is possible.

This woman, this stranger, is one of at least 4000 neighbors, friends, family members, classmates, coworkers who are impacted by the work Keshet does through inclusion each year. What’s amazing to me is that we never know whose life is going to be touched and how.

Then there is Sydney, a student at Keshet’s day school where 85% of the students receive 1-to-1 support.

At the beginning of the school year, Sydney went on a community service field trip where she was paired to work with another 7th grader who attends Solomon Schechter. This was the start of what’s become a great friendship. There were just two issues. Sydney can be really shy and also reluctant to use a device to assist her communication. Now, suddenly, she wanted to talk with her new friend. Staff loaded her device with teenage words and phrases, and off she went and she hasn’t looked back. In fact, when I visited the school the other day. She came right up to me and tapped the button to say, “hi.” Then she asked me why I was at school.

When Sydney graduates from Schechter and moves on to Keshet’s high school at Ida Crown, she will continue to grow and have a community where she belongs and her voice is heard. This is the experience that our 17 high schoolers are having right now. Seventeen is amazing. This is the largest high school enrollment Keshet has ever had.

When I think about numbers, there are a few big ones that weigh on me. Right now in Illinois, there are 8000 adults on a waiting list to receive funding for adult day programs and residential housing. Since the pandemic, 51% of adult day programs in Illinois have closed. Funding reimbursements from the state doesn’t come close to covering the cost of operating these programs and many could no longer find staff to run safely. It is heartbreaking.

Our families are grateful every day that Keshet is not one of these statistics. During this same time period, Keshet’s adult day program, GADOL, has grown by 44%!

THIS is possible because of all of you in this room. Thank you so much for believing in us and what we do. And, it’s not just me who thanks you. Megan and her family do too. Megan is the newest GADOL team member. She’s been part of Keshet’s recreation programs for years. When we learned that Megan was sitting at home during the day, we didn’t hesitate, we made space for her and welcomed her at GADOL. After a few weeks in the program, Megan turned to me and said that this had been the best month of her life.

When we say that amazing happens here, we mean it. Every moment is filled with opportunity and promise to achieve something incredible.

Amazing is more than the statistics and the numbers. Amazing is Jaden, Sydney, Megan and all of the other people who are thriving in Keshet’s programs. Amazing is our dedicated Board, amazing is our team of 130 staff, who are here for the many challenges, tiny steps forward and big triumphs. Amazing is the dedication and support of our families and community partners. Amazing is all of you.

As I stand in this room among 600 of Keshet’s greatest supporters, I am reminded of the amazing things that happen when we all come together as a Keshet community. Thank you all for being here and for your continued commitment to making Keshet amazing for years to come.

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