April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Westchester Riverdale i-Shine Resumes in Person

On October 13, Chai Lifeline’s i-Shine Westchester/Riverdale in-person sessions returned to Westchester Day School (WDS) in Mamaroneck. This unique after-school initiative, for elementary and middle school children affected by the illness or loss of a close family member, meets Wednesday afternoons from 3:45-6:45 p.m. at WDS. When life’s challenges become overwhelming, i-Shine provides relief and assistance in an environment filled with laughter, learning and friendship.

Due to COVID restrictions, i-Shine met virtually on Zoom throughout the last year. “The most important parts of i-Shine—the kids getting together with their mentors and interacting with each other—could not be accomplished as successfully as when the program takes place in person,” explained i-Shine Westchester founder Yvette Finkelstein. “Watching i-Shine kids waiting for their buddies is like waiting for Chanukah presents. Their eyes light up when they see their mentors arrive. High school volunteers are a vital part of the program, often forming lifelong relationships with their buddies.”

Finkelstein continued, “We have an amazing group of high school volunteers, 17 total, from SAR High School, Westchester Hebrew High School, and Harrison High School. The volunteer from Harrison High began working with us as junior volunteers while attending New Rochelle’s Beth-El Religious School.”

She explained, “For those students who are not yet ‘assigned’ to a buddy, they are given special jobs such as directing activities, helping with snacks, dinner and homework. If our i-Shine enrollment increases, and there are some families we anticipate will be joining, we’ll have student volunteers ready to go!” This chapter is currently working with 10 children from seven families.

Finkelstein noted, “Rena Ackerman, a co-chair of i-Shine, worked with both Rabbi Danny Kroll, assistant principal at SAR High School and Tami Stalbow, executive director at Westchester Hebrew High School, as they selected and interviewed the students whom they thought would be excellent additions to the program, serving as role models and providing one-on-one attention to the i-Shine kids.”

She continued, “The relationships between the volunteers and i-Shine kids often last a lifetime. Teens who study in Israel often correspond with their buddies. As one teen volunteer shared, ‘I-Shine ‘does more for me than I do for the kids and has even changed my career perspective.’ Some teen volunteers often return to i-Shine following their gap year, if their time and schedule permits.”

Dr. Evelyn Jakabovics, a clinical psychologist, and Sharon Plaue, MSW, conduct training sessions with the volunteers to explain the responsibilities and importance of volunteering.

Finkelstein described, “Kids play games outdoors on the beautiful grounds of WDS—basketball, soccer, frisbee, etc. Thanks to the generosity of WHHS, they can play basketball and other games in the high school gym during inclement weather.”

Finkelstein also thanked WDS Head of School Rabbi Joshua Lookstein and Rachel Goldman, WDS executive director. “They are extremely generous, providing beautiful grounds and classrooms, supplies, snacks and dinner to the i-Shine program. They are welcoming and supportive.” New Rochelle volunteer Sasha Fox and her activities committee plan activities for each session, such as playing bingo, making tile trivets, painting projects, etc. Birthdays are celebrated with gifts and ice cream cake. Holiday celebrations are part of the program.

A parent expressed, “You have no idea how incredible i-Shine is for my children. I am sorry we had life circumstances that warranted being a part of this special club, but I am so grateful for it!!”

Gila Weinstein, one of the founders of i-Shine in Teaneck, often cites, “The success of i-Shine will be when we don’t need it anymore!”

A parent from Israel stated, “Thank you for everything you are doing at i-Shine, I am so glad I met you because you make the children so happy.” Before COVID, this family’s older daughter was waiting for a procedure in a New York area hospital. The two younger children attended i-Shine, on recommendation of Chai Lifeline social workers who met the family at the hospital. The two younger kids did not speak a word of English.

Finkelstein recalled, “For the first few weeks, they sent Savta with them to i-Shine. It turned out to be amazing. We had teens and some adult volunteers who could speak Hebrew. They tried to communicate with the kids. Of course, kids learn quickly and were soon speaking semi-English with everyone. The older daughter is now fine, thank God, and the family is back in Israel. They were grateful to i-Shine for keeping the kids busy while the rest of the family was in the hospital helping her recuperate.”

Currently, i-Shine needs drivers to transport SAR’s vaccinated volunteers and to drive elementary school children to and from WDS. Please contact Daphne Rawson at [email protected] or Linda Zucker at [email protected]. There is no charge for participation. Families can join i-Shine at any time of the year. For further information, please go to www.chailifeline.org/ishine or email [email protected].

By Judy Berger


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