JFSA’s Horvitz YouthAbility ambassadors working on the frontlines

Serving their city

Helping and respecting others is core to Jewish Family Service Association of Cleveland’s Horvitz YouthAbility program. The initiative of the Pepper Pike organization engages local disabled and at-risk youth in volunteerism and skill building. 

While one aim of the program is to learn, another important objective is helping the program’s participants, called ambassadors, become good people who serve their community. That certainly describes the ambassadors who have worked frontline jobs over the past year. 


Several ambassadors and their families decided early in the pandemic that they would continue to work throughout it, says Heidi Solomon, YouthAbility program coordinator. Working at essential businesses like grocery stores and nursing homes, Solomon says the ambassadors truly put their training from JFSA into action. 

One ambassador received a bonus for working amid the risky conditions of COVID-19 and donated the funds to YouthAbility. 

“The main thing I want for the young people in the program is for them to be good people,” says Solomon, who was honored in the Cleveland Jewish News’ 2015 class of 18 Difference Makers. “So they are working through the pandemic, they get a bonus and they donate it, on so many levels that’s just incredible.”

Another ambassador was in the first group to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020, as a nursing home employee. And all were diligent with keeping up with safety and testing protocols throughout, Solomon says. 

In YouthAbility, ambassadors do kind things for the Jewish community and beyond, learning in the process. For example, one non-pandemic activity involves baking cookies and selling them around the community, then donating the proceeds to various organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Campaign for Jewish Needs and the Horvitz YouthAbility College Scholarship Fund. Through the project, ambassadors learn about purchasing ingredients, baking, selling items and making change, communication and philanthropy. The group also assists Holocaust survivors and the homeless, and tends to a vegetable garden to donate its crops. 

YouthAbility engages between 125 and 150 participants during a typical year, ranging from a few hours to as many as 30 hours weekly. While the program had to adapt during the pandemic to more virtual and outdoor activities, the focus on giving back remains. Solomon says an ambassador once described the program as “where we learn to respect each other.”

“I am amazed at how resilient our young people are,” Solomon says. “We call them ambassadors because we say they are representing themselves and other people just like them, and they’ve been incredibly resilient in adapting.”  

Arielle Brown, 30, Strongsville. Occupation: Dietary department at Pleasantview Care Center in Parma.
Aaron Greene, 28, Richmond Heights. Occupation: Bagger at Heinen’s in Pepper Pike.
Simon Oakley, 28, Shaker Heights. Occupation: Dishwasher at Heinen’s in Pepper Pike.
David Reed, 25, Euclid. Occupation: Bagger and clerk at Giant Eagle in Lyndhurst.
Courtney Snook, 30, Solon. Occupation: Dietary department at Heartland Senior Living in Twinsburg.

– Amanda Koehn

Meet more of Cleveland’s frontline workers at jstylemagazine.com/frontlineworkers.

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