It’s hard to imagine any organization having 64 locations inside of Israel, but with its newest office in Seattle, the list now includes three in the United States for the Friends of AKIM USA, the Association for the Habilitation of the Developmentally Disabled.
The satellite location is mainly a place to raise funds for the agency and share its vast expertise, but Pacific Northwesterners will also benefit from AKIM’s decades of expertise in offering employment-worthy job training and cradle-to-grave shelter to those who cannot fend for themselves.
“Our vision is that we will carry out projects that will facilitate the cooperation and sharing of the Israeli experience,” said Anat Brovman, director of the Seattle area’s Friends of AKIM USA office, which will most likely be located in Bellevue.
“The Seattle branch will be mostly concerned with fundraising and launching prospective projects,” said Brovman, “such as camps, visits to Israel to existing facilities, or sharing AKIM’s Israeli experience with local organizations willing to cooperate with us.”
Headquartered in New York, Friends of AKIM USA currently has locations in Palm Beach, Fla., Los Angeles, and Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.
In the U.S, AKIM is a 501(C)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization.
In Israel, AKIM operates within a $15 million annual budget, with half of its expenses covered by the government and Israel’s Social Security program and the other half generated from private donations and global philanthropy.
In 2012, Israel’s Minister of Health initiated mental health reform through a national health insurance order, which transferred the costs of mental health crisis services from the Ministry of Health to Israel’s HMOs. This change also combined the mental-health-crisis-care system with the general physical-medical-healthcare system.
According to Ha’aretz, one of the more “endangered” groups impacted by this shift in resources is the mentally ill.
AKIM in Israel operates group homes, social clubs, summer camps, workshops, and apartments for the disabled within commercial residential buildings for more than 30,000 disabled persons of all ages throughout the country.
“We believe that it is in our hands to improve and to turn our society into a better and a healthier one,” said Mica Danieli, head of AKIM headquarters in the U.S. “We believe that it can be done by providing the people with special needs with an equal attitude.”
A special IDF unit works with AKIM on a project called Sar-El, which consists of small groups of disabled individuals between 21 and 30 years old who are accompanied by Israeli soldier-mentors who provide them support, training and leadership.
“[The disabled] work in the kitchen and in factories assembling computers or performing other duties that are essential for the army,” Brovman said.
AKIM also collaborates with global companies on work training programs through a project called Open Market Employment. Ikea and Promedico are two businesses that employ AKIM participants and give them an opportunity to have a job.
“Once we all learn how to treat and to behave equally and with respect to those who are different from us,” said Danieli, “we shall enjoy life in a better and a happier society for us and for our next generation.”
AKIM’s New York administrative director, Ben Rabinovitch, told JTNews the organization wants to grow and is continually scouting for new locations, including potential outlets on Long Island and in Phoenix.
“We are interested in raising awareness and growing as much as possible here in the U.S.,” said Rabinovitch. “Our goal is to help people with special needs in Israel as much as we possibly can, and we will spread our message wherever and however we can in order to reach that goal.”
When asked why AKIM would open in Seattle, Rabinovitch said this population is a nice fit for AKIM’s goals.
“The Seattle metro area is home to a large and vibrant Jewish community,” he said. “It serves as a hotspot for young people looking to work in the high-tech and related industries.”
AKIM is open to all people who are disabled on a nonpartisan, nonsectarian, apolitical, and multicultural basis.