April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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NJ Yachad Expands, Creates Regional Center

New Jersey Yachad is about to embark on a new chapter, moving imminently to its new headquarters at 259 Cedar Lane in Teaneck, creating what will become the expanded New Jersey Regional Yachad Center. This moves comes after identifying the need for and gaining communal support for more services for individuals with special needs and their families. “In our new and beautiful space, we will be able to increase the number of participants we serve and have the opportunity to create even more innovative programs. It’s a dream come true and we are anticipating tremendous growth over the next few years,” said Chani Herrmann, Yachad New Jersey’s director. The new building will also house the Orthodox Union’s regional headquarters, under whose umbrella Yachad operates.

Our community’s teens have embraced Yachad, its programming and its participants, and the center’s capacity will make their participation in Yachad programming even easier. Because, really, every teen benefits from a friendly, kind face. It hardly matters whether one is being the friendly face or seeing the friendly face. “Being a teenager in today’s world is complicated, no matter who you are,” said Herrmann, who explained that high schoolers from Frisch, TABC and Ma’ayanot are now mainstay participants at the Mendel Balk z”l Yachad Adult Community Center, which opened in 2017 and runs programs four evenings a week for children, teens and adults with special needs. “We also have high schools from outside Bergen County joining us throughout the year; schools such as Kushner in Livingston and Hillel Yeshiva in Deal,” added Herrmann.

With the new expansion, Yachad will be able to offer additional programs and services. “We need the support of the entire community to help us provide the daily services we offer, some of which include a day habilitation program for young adults older than 21 and the evening activities at the Balk Center.” And that’s why the entire community is asked to attend the Yachad Gala on December 1, to support its important work and keep the benefits growing on this collaborative, loving partnership, she explained.

Yeshiva high school students meet their Yachad peers at the Balk Center for dinner and an exciting, mixed schedule of STEM, art, improv, sports and game-night programs, and (don’t forget!) the eagerly awaited weekly trip night/dinner-out activity. Yachad provides a bus once a week from Frisch and soon will offer this as well to TABC, Ma’ayanot and other interested schools, to the Balk Center. Yachad participants, who come from Bergen County, the Metrowest community and as far away as Edison and Highland Park, are shuttled home.

The expansion in capacity and usability creates exponential growth of new opportunities for Yachad. The facility will not only house the Balk Center, but also the day habilitation program as well as its parent support groups and sibling programs. The multi-use facility will include a built-in office-training lab, a computer lab, a kitchen, classrooms, a library, a lounge and a game room.

Parents choose to send their children to the Balk Center once, twice or more each week; many Yachad day program participants stay for the evening programming and dinner and take the Yachad van home. Yachad partners with Eighth Day Caterers to provide a delicious catered meal each evening, orchestrated specially to provide the right mix of healthy options and fun fare.

The effect of a weeknight program on families in the community who have a teen or young adult with special needs has been particularly momentous, mainly because the families are able to plan ahead and utilize that afternoon/evening time to do homework with other children, run errands or take a break, as adults and teens with special needs, in some cases, cannot be left alone, even for a few minutes. And Yachad’s programs are high-end and exciting, so it’s not babysitting by any stretch of the imagination.

“It changes home dynamics when, with consistency and reliability, a participant is engaged four days a week. We want parents to know this is what they can expect,” said Herrmann.

“But while parents get respite, it’s really all about the participants while they are here,” said Herrmann, explaining that the varied curriculum is expensive to run but Yachad charges very little for the evening program, and scholarships are available as well. “Cost to participate should never be a barrier, and more and more people are stepping up to help by sponsoring someone to attend the whole year,” she added.

One of the most important goals of the Balk Center, though, has been achieved, in that an inclusive space has been created and is felt throughout the community. With the inclusion of yeshiva high school peers who often choose an evening to spend at Yachad weekly, those students learn how to connect, communicate and be open to others who might be a little different. “Peers might come at first not knowing what to expect, but we hope they quickly create a space for themselves at Yachad, and also carry those lessons to the community at large. Yachad is for everyone who wants to meaningfully participate,” said Herrmann.

Racheli Israeli, a social worker who manages the Balk Center, shared that the peers, as well as the Yachad participants, learn tips and tricks of inclusion, particularly with non-verbal communication, that are useful for everyone to know. “We learn to keep your shoulder open if you are standing in a group with others, so people know they can join in. And we try to have an extra chair at every table, so people feel they can sit down,” she said.

“For the high school participants, they enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. People become friends with one another. It’s organic,” said Israeli.

Friendships formed between Yachad participants and peers are treasured. Though they might not be unique for the yeshiva high school peers, they are often unique for the Yachad participants. “We want meaningful relationships to be built here at Yachad, ones that can last a lifetime. “When a Yachad participant gets invited to a peer’s birthday party, it’s like something their parents have waited for their whole life. But for the peer, they just say, ‘That’s my friend. Of course I am inviting them,’” Herrmann said.

The New Jersey Yachad Gala is being held next motzei Shabbat, December 1, at Congregation Keter Torah. It will be honoring Benny and Sarah Berlin (young leadership); Joey and Shira Shatzkes (guests of honor); and David, Susan and Binyamin Richman (Yachad family award); and will establish the Chani Rubin, z”l, Summer Scholarship Fund. RSVP today at http://yachad.org/NJGala2018.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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