Teaneck—“We didn’t know what to do for Binyamin,” Teaneck parents Susan and David Richman told JLBC. At the time, their son was graduating from a special ed. high school and unsure of his next move. For 22-year-old Binyamin Richman, there were few options. He wanted to integrate into a community, but was not able to find his place. Fortunately, in September of 2013, Sinai opened the doors to the Netivot program for young adults, and Binyamin became one of its first participants.
A day habilitation program housed in the Teaneck Jewish Center, Netivot is designed for post- high school young adults with special needs who want to take the next step in their lives. “Two, three years ago, we were wondering what we should do with him,” said Susan, Binyamin’s mother. “Sinai has given him an environment where he is learning what it means to become an adult.”
Richman takes pride in Binyamin’s accomplishments over the past year in Netivot. Through his job at Ma’adan Caterers, she has seen him grow in his independence—he has learned to go to work and present himself, having gained an awareness of being an adult who takes his responsibilities seriously. Binyamin is learning to make his way around this community and is able to travel to Cedar Lane on his own. Through his placement at Netivot, “he has created a social life for himself,” said Susan, who looks forward to his expanding repertoire of life skills, including navigating directions, public transportation and managing a bank account.
Parents describe their children in a certain way, but Netivot gives them the opportunity to see and discover the potential and capabilities they may not have noticed in their children. “This fresh perspective allows the instructors to set up scenarios to help those skills flourish,” said Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Rothwachs, Dean of Sinai Schools. The environment is more informal to reflect the maturity of the participants. For example, instructors and participants are on a first name basis.
The participants in the Netivot program begin each day at the Teaneck Jewish Center. The morning is spent learning life skills and work skills, and in the afternoon the participants go off-site as part of their vocational training. “The Netivot program teaches work skills and job skills, such as how to look presentable and the importance of getting to work on time,” said Chavie Hagler, Sinai’s director of adult programming. “The participants learn so much about work culture, how to have a conversation and social aspects of work.”
Netivot participants discuss current events, and develop money and basic computer skills. Current events are used to reinforce sequencing, to give clients the ability to summarize a story in their own words, or give them topics that will enrich their social experience. “A workplace is so much more than just a place to do a job,” said Hagler. “The ability to hold a conversation about a trending topic is just as important as the skills required to do the job.”
On Fridays, Netivot participants go out to lunch on their own. They learn to manage their money, calculate costs, figure out what change they should give and help make the overall buying and shopping process smoother. “We do a lot of money math,” said Hagler.
One of the strategies is to videotape participants and allow them to watch themselves on screen, and then offer self-critiques with colleagues. Hagler described a young lady with an interest in early childhood education. She was placed at a local day school and during group play, had a group of preschoolers to read to. Though she can read, by critiquing herself, she learned how to engage her audience, to stop and ask questions, to discuss pictures, and to provide appropriate expression throughout the story. Over the course of the year, she was mainstreamed into a classroom environment, and learned when to reach out to students and take initiative in interactions, rather than holding back until given a set of instructions.
Another participant worked in a food store, filling containers with rice. When he saw the video of himself, he noticed that he was not filling containers equally and had to be more consistent with the amount of rice he put in.
Rothwachs explains that what makes Sinai’s day habilitation program unique is that they use the Sinai trademark model of creating programs for individuals. They look for the interests and the best environment for each member of Netivot and place the participant accordingly. Some programs place students in multiple environments throughout the week, Rothwachs noted, and he recognizes the benefits to this model, but he prefers the consistency of a single work environment for each participant.
“The goal of the program is for Netivot participants to be independent, and become contributing members of society,” said Hagler.
Sinai is a qualified, approved provider of adult day services in the State of New Jersey. Many participants apply for and receive funding through New Jersey’s Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). For more information, visit Sinai Schools at http://www.sinaischools.org/our-schools-and-programs-adult-programs/netivot
By Jenny Gans