As all schools began to shut down due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus two weeks ago, NCSY 4G (a division of NJ NCSY, focused on all girls programming) got together via Zoom to discuss what we can do to aid our communities being affected by this disease. After much discussion, 4G decided to partner with SINAI Schools and Yachad Virtual Buddies program to create weekly virtual playdates over Zoom, called Zoommates. Zoommates partners high school teenagers and SINAI or Yachad participants to have daily 45-minute playdates, where the two participants meet up to do whatever it is they may enjoy. In just one week, there have been more than 50 Zoom calls filled with fun, including magic shows, storytelling, lego competitions, chess matches and interactive Parsha learning. Parents have been so appreciative of the respite time this program is able to offer to them while they work through the challenges of having a child with special needs at home during very long days.
As Ilana Berkowitz, a SINAI parent, said, “When we found out that schools and programs were shutting down because of the coronavirus our biggest fear was how would Netanel, 14 with Down syndrome, be able to handle the lack of structure and social interactions that school (SINAI) and all his after school activities (Yachad and Friendship Circle) provided for him. Ironically, Netanel is having the easiest time out of all my children. (After a full day of school with SINAI), Zoommates comes right in at 4 p.m. with someone to schmooze and play games with him. Netanel’s days are filled with more interaction than I could have hoped for.”
All the amazing teenagers who signed up to do this incredible act of chesed during their time at home are sure to continue their virtual playdates for as long as needed so that we can fill that void which is missing in many of our communities.
Additionally, they are beginning to “appreciate all the gifts Hashem has given me” and allow themselves to have an awareness for “people who are different than me,” says volunteer Shira Pfeiffer.
Parents, children, and volunteers have all given positive feedback about how much this meaningful playdate has helped them and enhanced their lives.
Miri Rosenberg, a SINAI student, said “My Zoommates are really nice. They smile at me and it makes me feel really happy. They also play with me, teach me how to put on makeup, and have lots of fun with me. I love spending time with them.”
Every child is able to feel special and enjoy their time off with a new friend.
Hannah Grayman, a senior in Bruriah high school wrote that “this experience has provided each one of us an outlet to hang around, talk and chill. Most importantly though, we are making new friends.”
Everyone participating in Zoommates are really being impacted by this short but special playdate. Zoommates is organized by the following girls NCSY 4G: Dina Rothwachs, Aliza Cohn, Atara Pietruszka, Ora Hochberg and Tiferet Mondrow.
For more information, and to find out about joining Zoommates, reach out to Rabbi Zev Kahane at [email protected]