Thursday, December 08, 2022

The Bayit Association has reached another milestone in its quest to provide housing for Jewish young adults with disabilities in Bergen County. The organization is partnering with Ohel, a top provider of services to New Yorkers with disabilities since 1969, to run group homes that The Bayit has purchased. The first home is presently under construction and the second was recently purchased.

The Bayit Association is a new local organization that was started by a small group of Teaneck parents who saw the need for kosher, shomer Shabbos housing for young adults in their community with developmental disabilities (DD). These parents recognized that while they could undertake the job of fundraising and purchasing residential homes, they would need an established, trusted organization to supervise and run the homes. Ohel fits the bill perfectly. Ohel Bais Ezra, their first group home in New York for people with developmental disabilities, opened in 1979. Ohel now has homes in Long Island, Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

The group homes Ohel will run in conjunction with The Bayit Association will be their first in New Jersey. Ohel had been interested in providing residential services in New Jersey for many years but faced many obstacles and were therefore unable to provide housing until now. “An opportunity came about with the New Jersey Department of Developmental Disabilities and the Bayit Association,” said Ohel CEO David Mandel in a phone interview. “It all aligned in a meaningful way to go forward.” Ohel has done work in New Jersey in other areas, Mandel said, noting that the organization has been involved with school-based services, trauma, and crisis intervention.

“Ohel is very happy to collaborate with Bayit, initially in the two homes Bayit purchased,” said Mandel. “Amongst all the services a family with a developmentally disabled child will need, housing is the most important and the most long-term. You are entrusting your child to the Ohel home to live there the rest of their lives. It’s a big responsibility for us.”

Adam Lancer, Ohel’s chief operating officer, said Mandel first started meeting New Jersey parents about running residential group homes a few years ago, and asked him to begin the process of getting licensed in the state. Last year, Ohel received the license for nonresidential support for adults including vocational training and support in family homes. “We are now working with the State of New Jersey intensively to gain licensure for residential support. We are developing the necessary policies and procedures,” Lancer said.

The Bayit Association and Ohel have been working together for about six months to develop a partnership that details their involvement, respective roles and responsibilities, fundraising responsibilities and property ownership. “It’s a very collaborative, very positive relationship,” Lancer said. “We speak regularly, we’ve been to the homes and we’re giving suggestions about improving the layout of the homes.”

The houses will become homes for individuals with developmental disabilities and will be structured so that each person is cared for in a safe and loving environment. Some of the residents may need help showering at night, picking out clothing and getting dressed, or getting to activities. Others will be working and taking public transportation to their jobs. “We will help all residents in the home fulfill their potential and foster their independence in a safe way with a whole host of services,” said Lancer. “The primary driver is safety—keeping clients safe physically and emotionally. We also have to create a culturally sensitive environment for them to pursue their interests and goals and immerse them into the community.”

Bassie Taubes, one of the founders of The Bayit Association, is thrilled that Ohel is now in partnership with them. “The seriousness of their commitment to this project is amazing,” she said. “This is a big jump, and we are very excited. We will be doing great things together.”

The division of labor is clear: The Bayit raises the money to purchase and remodel the homes; Ohel administers and staffs them. But the two work closely together. “We are the parents who recognized the need and put this together,” said Taubes. “We live here and will be working with the community. Ohel wouldn’t be successful in this endeavor without us, and we wouldn’t be successful without them.”

One area where both organizations will work together is on helping families access the funding they are entitled to for services. When a person with a diagnosis of a DD turns 21, he or she is entitled to Medicaid regardless of the parents’ income. Medicaid provides funding not only for medical needs, but for support services such as day habilitation and pre-vocational and vocational training and housing. Each child has a budget, depending on his or her needs, but there are complicated formulas and lots of paperwork. “Accessing government funding is an enormous job,” said Taubes. “The homes can’t operate unless people can access these funds, but it’s a big challenge for many parents. We are therefore educating them as to what they can do before their child turns 21 and when they make the transition. Both organizations together will be able to help parents.” But this funding does not include purchasing or renovating the homes, which is where The Bayit Association comes in.

Adam Chill, another founder of The Bayit, moved to Teaneck from New Rochelle. As a New Yorker, he was very familiar with Ohel. “We now have one of the premier providers of shomer Shabbos group homes in New York State here in our community,” he said. “They know how to hire and train, develop programming, and properly determine who is a good fit. They have 40 years’ experience bringing individuals to group homes when they are in their 20s and 30s and remaining there.”

The first house is projected to open by the 2023 Yom Tovim, roughly a year from now. In the meantime, Ohel is finishing its licensing requirements, meeting with families, educating parents and meeting with rabbanim and shul leaders to ensure proper integration of the residents into the broader community.

An important meeting will be held on Sunday, December 4 at Congregation Zichron Mordechai, 268 West Englewood Avenue, Teaneck, for all families interested in finding out about programs for young adults over 21 and hearing more about The Bayit Association and Ohel. Families with children 18-21 are also welcomed to attend. “We encourage parents who have a child with a disability to join the meeting on December 4 and look into the future,” said Mandel. “People do not know when they may be deciding or what circumstances may change in people’s lives that puts them into a crisis. These meetings are not for decisions; they are for conversations. Come and learn.”

For more information about the meeting, please email: [email protected] or [email protected]

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