Students with a wide variety of disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, learning and attention issues, mental-health challenges and other disabilities are improving the lives of people in need in Washington, D.C.

The teens are making food for the homeless, sorting goods in food pantries, visiting senior citizens and improving local parks. Called “Summer of Service,” the special day camp is filled with opportunities for Washington-area middle and high school students to lend a hand helping others.

The nonsectarian program is a partnership between the Edlavitch DCJCC, which has more than 25 years of experience in volunteer service opportunities, and RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities.

Staff members include para-educators and special-education teachers from the Montgomery County Public School programs in Maryland for children with Asperger’s sydrome, along and with EDCJCC inclusion staff.

Those in the program earn 30 Student Service Learning credit hours per week in a safe and enriching environment.

“This is an opportunity for youth with disabilities to show how much they can contribute to people in need,” says Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who co-founded both the EDCJCC community service program decades ago and RespectAbility five years ago. “People with disabilities have talents they want to contribute to making their neighbors happier, healthier and better off.”

Cassidy Jones, Inclusion Programming Manager at the EDCJCC’s Inclusion Programming, adds that “it’s wonderful to be able to provide an opportunity for teens of all abilities to gain experience in making a difference, while also helping the vulnerable population throughout D.C. It’s a win-win for everyone.”