Irene Jones is an incredible example of a local parent who turned a personal passion into a service for her community.
“I am the type of person who loves a challenge. When someone says to me that it can’t be done, I am determined to make it happen.”
In 2008, Jones created a supportive, productive space for individuals like her son Josiah.
“My son Josiah is the reason Josiah’s House came about – he was diagnosed with autism at the age of three; he is now 30 years young. He is my drive, my inspiration in moving forward with the vision.”
After his diagnosis, Jones found the existing network of resources to not be as beneficial to her family as she hoped. This sprung her into action; it wasn’t long until Jones decided to quit her job as an RTA bus driver so she could discharge her son from his group home and dedicate her time to providing the developmental care he needed. While learning how to take care of her son, Jones immersed herself in learning about treatment and the needs of the autism community at large. She earned her certification from the Ohio Dept. of Developmental Disabilities and began to build what is now known as Josiah’s House.
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“Would you be willing to intern a young adult on the spectrum?” That was the question posed by my HR department. Milestones Autism Resources had some clients with an interest in art and as Director of the Federation’s Cleveland Israel Arts Connection, I was asked if I had an appropriate project for a six-month internship.
At the time, I didn’t know much about persons with autism, but I was willing to learn. Besides, I had a project on my wish list that I had never gotten around to. I thought it would be a good experience for me personally, and a mitzvah as well. Then I met Cory Irwin and the internship became so much more.
Cory presenting a piece at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland
As soon as I met Cory, any outdated and uninformed notion I had of a person with autism completely dissolved. Cory is a 24-year-old college graduate who earned a B.A. in museum studies from Walsh University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in humanities from John Carroll–an amazing accomplishment for any individual.
As I explained the project to Cory, cataloguing artworks in the Federation’s permanent collection, it became apparent that Cory had a vast, almost encyclopedic, knowledge of visual art and art history. He was able to interpret artworks in highly sophisticated ways. And research? I have never met anyone as resourceful as Cory. If he couldn’t find information online, he would call libraries. He asked intelligent questions and contacted artists directly for insight into their works.
The final catalog contains detailed essays of over 20 artworks. Each essay explores the background of the artist, artistic influences, and an interpretation of the work. Cory compiled information from numerous sources and authored each of the essays. I quickly ran out of superlatives when describing the quality of his work. Next month, Cory will present his catalog to Federation staff and offer a tour of selected works – works that we pass by every day will now have added meaning. The catalog will also be available to visitors to the Federation’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Building.
But even more than the final catalog, Cory’s presence in the office will have a lasting effect. He was a contributing staff member, attending staff meetings, group outings, and holiday celebrations. Many of my colleagues commented often on his friendliness, outgoing nature, and his passion for his family, faith, and comic books. Cory enjoyed learning from others and was a willing teacher, often sharing his expertise on a variety of topics.
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