April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

By Nina Glick

Yachad is an organization with which many in the community are already familiar. Once again, we take pride in familiarizing and reminding everyone of the amazing work being done by Yachad.

How and when did the organization get started?

Yachad began in the 1980s to fill a void for Jewish individuals with disabilities and help include them in all aspects of communal life.

Please describe in detail what services your organization provides? Who does it service, how often etc. Please list all of them.

Yachad is dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish individuals with disabilities and their families, by enhancing their communal participation and their connection to Judaism through social and educational programs and support services This is accomplished through a myriad of programs including: our day habilitation program (JUFNJ), which offers supported employment, pre-employment training and volunteer opportunities, life skills as well as emotional/interpersonal skills. We also offer social recreational programs such as the Mendel Balk Yachad Center, our nightly after school center in which neurotypical and neurodivergent students and young adults come together to unwind in a safe environment through various programs. Our various programs include our weekly Ruth Ulevitch Language Art Program, zumba class, music program and our Thursday night mishmar program with local rabbanim from the Bergen County community. In addition to the evening programming in Bergen County, we also offer a weekly evening program in Passaic.

We have a Sunday program called Sunday Social geared towards exploring different aspects of socialization with a goal of working on specific social skills. Throughout the year we have multiple shabbatons, weekend retreats, for the different age groups of our participants where we partner with an age-appropriate community school or synagogue for a maximal inclusive experience. In addition to shabbatons we offer Shabbos afternoon programming throughout the year.

Many of our members attend programs created by the devoted Yachad summer team.

We also offer “staycation” program providing trips, structure and fun to fill the weeks between camp and school.

While most of our programs directly serve our members, we also offer services to the community to create awareness and foster connectivity to our population. We partner with schools, and parent organizations where we run sensitivity trainings. These trainings programs utilize the values of games and play to help generate a personal understanding of what it may be like to have certain disabilities. Additionally, we run leadership programs for middle school and high school students. The students come together to experience moving sessions and inclusive programming in a way that is empowering to all. The goal is for each student to learn, grow and walk out of their Yachad experience as a better leader, bringing back lessons and experiences to their families, schools and communities.

Are your services anonymous?

At the very basic level, those with developmental disabilities looking for social/communal services are eligible for participation in our programs post the intake process and trial. We serve a broad range of individuals with varying needs and ages and to best provide for this spectrum we offer services that are targeted specifically to different groups of our membership.

While we take measures to safeguard our participants, staff and volunteers, and their protected information, as we provide many programs within the community full anonymity is not always possible; however, guardians who choose to have their family member partake in our activities are aware of the communal nature of our services.

Please share an anecdote that highlights the work that you do.

John* is a Yachad NJ member with incredible intellect who earned a college degree; however, he struggles with emotional and social challenges. Having a degree is helpful, but John was being stymied by his inability to travel independently to his inter-city position. Yachad NJ began travel training with John- reviewing possible modes of public transportation, choosing the best options, understanding safety protocol, understanding alternative possibilities when transportation is canceled and, of course, working with John to identify and overcome his fears. Initially, Yachad NJ staff accompanied John, but over time staff were able to wean their support and John can now travel independently.

John is now able to be a part of his community like anyone else—volunteering and securing another job that he travels to alone. Many of us gloss over the magnitude of steps it takes to accomplish an end goal as we don’t struggle in those areas. At Yachad, we recognize those struggles and that each step of growth is an accomplishment in and of itself regardless of how big or small.

What volunteer opportunities, if any, can community members sign up for? Please include age of the volunteers, frequency of commitment and expected task.

Yachad New Jersey welcomes all community members to volunteer. There are many ways in which a community member can get involved. From as young as middle school through retirement. Many bnei mitzvah choose Yachad as their bar or bat mitzvah project which can include anything from a bake sale, toy/games drive to volunteering at the center weekly and anything in between. Many high school students attend the Mendel Balk Yachad Center as peer volunteers. They fully participate in all activities while creating meaningful relationships and promoting inclusion. Young professionals and above are always welcome to get involved by supporting various projects and community events throughout the year. Additionally, each Thursday night we welcome congregants of local shuls to join a local rav and participate in our mishmar program.

If you are interested in getting involved or volunteering please don’t hesitate to reach out. We can’t wait to welcome you.

Nina Glick can be reached at [email protected].

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