Englewood—In the afternoon, Robert Bressman, 56, sometimes takes a walk with his sister Beth, strolling in and out of the shops on Palisade Avenue in Englewood. Shopkeepers and customers alike greet him by name and stop to share a word. Later, Robert heads back home for coffee with friends in his living room. It seems as normal a life as any other, punctuated by visits to synagogue and the JCC for social events, and even some work. But it’s a life organized and optimized by the kosher group home in which Robert lives.
Robert is developmentally disabled and has lived for the past 25 years in an apartment run by the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities, or J-ADD. Based in Bergen County, J-ADD operates seven group homes and five apartments for 50 Jewish adults who range in age from 21 to 74. An eighth home, built from the ground up to be fully accessible for people with ambulatory issues, will serve the organization’s aging population, and is scheduled to open next month in Teaneck, near Queen Anne Road.
An unpaid board of directors works closely with a highly trained staff as well as four master’s degree-seeking social work interns who complete a year-long internship to bring energy, activity and vibrancy to the residents’ lives. Rebbetzin Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky oversees the coursework and programming of the interns along with Varda Hager, J-ADD’s associate director. Dr. John Winer is J-ADD’s director.
J-ADD held their tenth annual walk-a-thon on a recent Sunday, gathering residents, supporters, family, staff and board members to share in a morning of fundraising and exercise at the Englewood Boat Basin. Bruce Meyer, a J-ADD board member, brought his band, Mystery Train, to play rock-and-roll favorites at the event, as he does every year.
“The more adults with disabilities are involved in the community, the more their lives are full,” said Beth Sackler, J-ADD’s current president of J-ADD’s board of directors. Sackler knows first-hand how full the residents’ lives are, because Robert Pressman, mentioned above, is Sackler’s brother. She has worked for many years as a volunteer for the organization.
Since Sackler enjoys such as close relationship with her brother, she aims to bring that benefit to others by developing and encouraging more recreational events like the walk-a-thon to increase sibling and other family involvement in residents’ activities.
When J-ADD began, secular group homes for developmentally disabled adults were not meeting the needs of the traditional Jewish community in Bergen County. “Now, when you walk into one of these homes, you see not a group home, but a Jewish home,” said Sackler. “In a perfect world, these disabilities wouldn’t exist, but since they do, this kind of home is the next best thing,” she said.
As the residents age, it’s important to note that their families are aging too, and it’s key for parents and siblings of developmentally disabled adults to know their loved ones are in safe, loving hands on a long-term basis, Sackler said. J-ADD group homes work to provide just that.
While most of the funding for J-ADD group homes comes from the state, the board has concerns that government cutbacks will curb its activities, so it seeks contributions, which can be made online (http://www.j-add.org). J-ADD also needs volunteers and actively pursues many kinds of partnering opportunities with community organizations. Events such as the walk-a-thon help raise funds, as does their partner organization Flowers by J-ADD, which employs J-ADD residents to work as florists and salespeople, using a varying degree of fine motor skills, at different locations before Shabbos, holidays or even for special events like bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings.
By Elizabeth Kratz