April 20, 2024
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April 20, 2024
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NJ Yachad Hosts National Training for Sibshops

My daughter came home with coasters she made that looked almost tie-dyed. “This one’s my favorite,” she said, holding up one with a yellow center surrounded by bright blues and greens that faded into a soft peach.

Creating coasters was just one activity the group did at the most recent Sibshops she attended. Sibshops are special programs for school-age brothers and sisters of kids with special needs. The programs give kids a chance to talk about what it’s like to have a brother or sister with special needs, to meet other kids who have siblings with special needs, to learn something about the services their brothers and sisters receive and to play games and have fun. The program began by serving kids who are 8 to 13, and it’s now available for siblings as young as 6 years old and for teens.

The Sibshops group my daughter is in used permanent markers to color tile coasters—some with pictures of something that made them angry, some with pictures of things that calmed them down. Then they put drops of rubbing alcohol on the coasters to make the colors run. The takeaway: Feelings aren’t forever, and circumstances change.

In January, NJ Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, hosted a two-day national Sibshops facilitator training course in Teaneck for 15 Yachad staff from Boston, New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles.

Yachad and Sibshops are ideal partners: Both organizations aim to meet the needs of children with special needs and their families in a supportive, welcoming atmosphere.

Don Meyer, director of the Sibling Support Project and founder of Sibshops, led the recent training course for Yachad.

“It was gratifying to see the interest from Yachad in the Sibshops model and the organization’s commitment to the well-being of the brothers and sisters of kids with special needs. Everyone benefits,” Meyer explained. Siblings often have the longest and closest relationships of anyone in the family, so nurturing siblings of kids with special needs strengthens the whole family.

Chani Herrmann, director of New Jersey Yachad, has seen families gain strength as a result of sibling support groups. She starting offering Sibshops about four years ago in Teaneck.

“New Jersey Yachad has always been at the forefront of providing support to all members of the family,” she said. “We recognized years ago the need to provide a forum for siblings to connect in a safe and nonjudgmental environment. They find that at Yachad.”

As the sibling support program grew in popularity, Herrmann sent staff person Tzippy Hiller to Boston in 2017 for Sibshops training, and then worked to offer January’s national training course so that Sibshops can eventually expand to all Yachad regions. The long-term goal is for all Yachad chapters throughout the United States, Canada and Israel to launch Sibshops so that all siblings have the opportunity to join a group. NJ Yachad will spearhead the effort and help other regions set up Sibshops.

The January training was Hiller’s second time taking the course, and she said the adult sibling panel was a highlight of this session.

“Hearing what it was like for them as young sibs—their fears, their challenges, their advice to young sibs today,” was insightful, she said, and will help her relate to the siblings in the groups she facilitates. “We got to hear what their concerns are now as adults and how important it is for us to support siblings when they’re young and to give them their own space to have fun, with no judgment.”

I’ve seen myself the warmth and excitement Sibshops generates each time I pick up my daughter and she runs over to grab my hand and show me what they did that afternoon—and then keeps talking about it all the way home.

Sibshops is more than an outing every few months for siblings. We still use the tie-died coasters and remember the story behind them. The lessons and memories from Sibshops are lasting, and those who attend NJ Yachad’s Sibshops will benefit for years to come.

NJ Yachad will extend Sibshops groups to Bergen County, Middlesex County and West Orange. Email [email protected] or call 201-833-1349 for more information. Families can also send their children to Sibshops programs at the Annual Northeast Yachad Family Retreat, which is May 4 in Stamford, Connecticut.

Find more about Sibshops at https://www.siblingsupport.org/about-sibshops. For more about New Jersey Yachad and its Sibshops programs, visit: https://www.yachad.org/newjersey

By Amy Lerner/OU


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