Empowering Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Differences to Thrive

December 28, 2021
Rendering of The Village, a project by Cornerstone Housing.

For three decades, ETTA has been building community for adults with developmental differences— a community forged through friendship, activities, and Jewish values.

Nearly all nonprofits that focus on supporting people with disabilities start small and are driven by need. Families gather together to build a future when, oftentimes, the local institutions—such as schools, synagogues, employers—have failed. These families fuel the growth of organizations such as ETTA, the largest agency of its type in any Jewish community in the U.S. outside of New York. I am privileged to have been a driving force behind the organization since 1993 and am proud of its growth and success.

Today, ETTA supports 160 people every day, with a support team of 225 employees.

In housing, work settings, and day programs spanning communities from Calabasas to Glendale, Santa Monica to Koreatown, and all parts in between, ETTA empowers adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live enriched lives.

When all the analysis is set aside, what makes ETTA the standard-bearer in the community, is a single attribute—caring. There is nothing more complicated yet crucial than truly being there for another person, helping people steer their own path forward within their career, social life, or familial relationships.

The pandemic, by its very definition, affects everyone. At ETTA, our focus has been to counteract the isolation and loneliness that the pandemic has created. Meetings with friends are canceled, job opportunities evaporated, group activities were curtailed. Activities that were fun and meaningful are limited by the need to stay safe.  New programming on Zoom fills some of the gaps but, still, the quality of life can’t quite equal what it was before.  Anyone who has attended an ETTA Shabbaton knows what joy there is in friends coming together to celebrate.

ETTA’s annual Hanukkah party.

The Jewish people are well-accustomed to challenges, and our spirit always drives us to look to the future. One cannot just stand still when faced with severe challenges. With God’s help, and the dedication and devotion of community members, we can effect real change.

The pandemic is a problem that we face now. But affordable housing is an ongoing problem, not only for those who are currently homeless, but also for those with fragile support networks. Nearly all people with a developmental disability live with that vulnerability.

Twenty-five years ago, the Board of Directors at ETTA recognized that the special needs community needed independent living options. More recently, the vulnerability of the special needs adult population, combined with the devastating absence of appropriate housing opportunities, led us to bring together community leaders and philanthropists to establish a new nonprofit, Cornerstone Housing, which seeks to address, on a larger scale, the issue of appropriate housing for neurodiverse adults. Its first project is The Village, located on Pico Blvd. in Beverlywood. Groundbreaking on this $50 million dollar project is slated for the summer of 2022.

The Cornerstone Housing Board of Directors is committed to building the first ‘supported, independent apartment community’ in a Jewish neighborhood in the United States. Driven by deeply rooted values, the Board leadership has been essential in the pursuit of establishing a new standard for inclusive and supportive housing.

The Village will pioneer a revolutionary model for housing that empowers residents who have intellectual and development differences to live active, independent, and enriched lives while also addressing Los Angeles’ need for more housing options. Neurodiverse adults will live in the heart of the city alongside neurotypical adults, ensuring that every person in the community is not just tolerated and included, but celebrated and treasured.

The Village will offer 64 units, including studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments, a rooftop garden and sitting area, farm-to-table dining options, a state-of-the-art gym and physical therapy room, a quiet meditation room, lively lounges and activity rooms, a music room, a private library, and much more.

The Village’s community coffee shop.

The Village will also offer support services that are customized. A full range of best-in-class services will be offered—from skills training and job placement opportunities, to a demonstration kitchen and comprehensive dining options, to activity rooms and transit access—creating an atmosphere that fosters creativity, empowerment, and independence.

This first-of-its kind apartment community was not born out of mere interest or opportunity, but obligation. The Talmud teaches us that Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh—all of Israel are responsible for one another. Just as our ancestors were commanded to provide food for those in-need, we must heed the call to provide housing, one of the essential human needs, to the most vulnerable in our community.

The Village will fulfill ETTA’s original vision and Cornerstone’s mission of inclusive and accessible housing, providing opportunities for the entire community to thrive and grow. Through this project, we will have the opportunity to make a positive, lasting impact on hundreds of individuals and the families who love them. I call on the Jewish community to partner with us and help make this vision a reality. We can build a brighter, more inclusive future, together.

Dr. Michael Held is the driving force behind ETTA, a leading service provider to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, which he helped to establish in 1993. Dr. Held also serves as the executive director of Cornerstone, a new community nonprofit that is currently developing a state-of-the-art independent apartment community (“The Village”) in the heart of Los Angeles.

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