A helping hand

Up close with some new organisations giving support to parents and families


By Chandrea Serebro

The stress and pressure of finding ways to deal positively with a child’s remedial issues and the many lifestyle-affecting factors that go along with them is one thing, but few people truly consider the enormity of the effect this situation has on parents and the rest of the family. The recognition and awareness of the issues, the decisions that have to be made, living with choices that are made, the happiness of the child, and the scary question of what the future holds all loom large.

Eighteen months ago, Shosh Joffe and Sarah Blumberg established a first-of-its-kind support group for moms dealing with kids with remedial issues, in order to offer advice and resources to families embarking on this journey. “Being parents ourselves who have been through the process of placing our kids in remedial schools and are still dealing with all of the challenges that come with it, we realised along the way that there is a definite need for support for the parents. In our experience, we have found this to be a very anxious, lonely, isolating time, in which parents are often overwhelmed, scared, judged, and reluctant to put their child in a remedial school. This may be due to the stigma of remedial schools or just having to accept that their child needs help. People need help from the start, and so we formed Ohr Chana, in memory of the late Ann Joffe who worked closely with educationally challenged kids.”

Under the umbrella of support comes advice such as: who to speak to, what schools are available, logistics, protocols to follow and such, as well as a buddy system, whereby the mother will be put in touch with someone already in the system. They also run a monthly support group with guest speakers according to the moms’ needs and interests. “Our aim is to offer our services to the schools so that they can forward our contact details to parents at the initial recommendation of remediation. Hopefully by doing this we can give parents the confidence to make the most informed decision. Because, unfortunately, many parents realise too late, often when remediation is no longer an option, the potentially detrimental results such as poor self-esteem, bullying, and behavioural issues, which arise when parents choose to keep their children who have clearly identified remedial issues in the mainstream schools.”

Ohr Chana is in close contact with the moms to help them navigate this road as well. “One of the needs that was highlighted by the many moms we consult with is the lack of exposure to Yiddishkeit for the children who have moved to remedial schools.” To this end, Ohr Chana has committed to address this need. “For Pesach, this year we ran a very successful programme, and for Shavuot we will be participating in Generation Sinai so children won’t be missing out. And we are consulting with experienced special education teachers to create an out-of-school Jewish learning programme. More Jewish kids are attending these remedial schools every day, and we feel that it is imperative to address their Jewish needs.”

Ohr Chana’s principal aim, however, is for parents to be able to dispel the stigma of remedial issues. “We want to empower parents to believe in their children and know that they will succeed despite the difficulties. They need to hear that it’s okay that these kids have these challenges, that they can be remediated, and will achieve tremendous success in their lives. And we are here to tell them. One of our very first guest speakers was a mom who had two kids in a remedial school. The children matriculated last year with superb results and are now studying overseas. This gave the parents tremendous hope and encouragement. We want parents to believe in their children despite the ups and downs of this journey.” For more information, contact Sarah Blumberg on 082 642 0054 and Shosh Joffe on 082 388 3270.

When it comes to giving children with special needs all of one’s heart, mind, and being, no one does this better than Leah Lipskar, Director of the South African chapter of the Friendship Circle (FC), which now has over 80 regional chapters around the world. The FC offers a support system and safe haven in which to make friends, learn, laugh, and have a bit of fun, as well as bring energy, support, and peace of mind to their families. “Everyone is welcome here – irrespective of their ability, and our overarching aim is to integrate our circle of children into the broader society, without being judged or marginalised, but rather so that they can be accepted and embraced, loved and appreciated for who they are.”

The FC originated in Detroit in 1994 as the brain child of Rabbi Levi ShemTov, who noticed that the needs of these children – for friendship, understanding, and acceptance – could, with time and effort, be filled by teens, so many of whom, he noticed, maintain a passion for life lacking in direction, and a sense of entitlement that inhibits their sense of responsibility in giving back to the world. “The Friendship Circle, in essence, brings newfound purpose and meaning to both of them,” explains Leah. Through unique and tailor-made programming, the group promotes an inclusive community that values all individuals regardless of the challenges they face. The teen volunteers are paired with a child with needs, and from the very beginning they start developing a unique friendship.

The jam-packed, diverse, and free programme and line-up of events include: The Friends At Home programme, whereby two high school volunteers are sent to the home of the participant where they interact and play together as friends, building social skills and creating a relationship together; and the FC Club, which meets at different locations and helps to work on life skills, social behaviour, and general knowledge of the world around; Specialty Sessions, which consist of different extra murals such as Zumba followed by Taekwondo, Cooking, and Art – giving the chance to try out different skills in an accepting and non-judgmental setting; Siblings Club, a special time for siblings only to join in an activity and special fun run by a professional; and the Teens and Adults Club – where teens and adults mingle with varsity students over bowling, movie night, and Krav Maga. Five times throughout the year, the group hosts a fabulous party connected to the Chag in that month in the Go Chag Programme, with masquerades, shows, ice cream, factories, and more. And this year the Friendship Circle started its very own Hebrew School, featuring small classes, one-on-one Hebrew reading lessons, and Jewish enrichment. The Township programme partners at a centre for children with special needs in Ivory Park, and works together with them there.

But one of the crowning features is the Friendship Circle Café, where the FC Adults get the opportunity to work in their very own café (hosted by Jozi Blue), where they are the cooks, the waiters, the cleaners, and all. “The response to the FC Café was overwhelming – so many people came just out of the desire to be a part of something like this – where the FC and the patrons alike are all just having a coffee, without there being any need for difference or ‘other’. The FC found them to be more capable than they thought they could be, and the patrons found themselves to be more inclusive and accepting than they dreamed they could be.” And this is Leah’s dream, what she calls her ‘ten year plan’ – to develop an all-encompassing ‘world’ in which people with special needs work, live, and play. It’s a place that operates entirely for their benefit, and the broader world around enters this special world to do their shopping and their chores. While Leah fine-tunes this dream, she’ll continue in her passion to help the FC thrive, building lives and encouraging friendships. The FC is a NPO and relies on donations to continue. For more information, to volunteer, or to donate, visit: friendsinsa.co.za; email: friendsinsa@gmail.coml; or call 082 519 1335.

[In a box]

My name is Adam Rubin. I will be 21 in September. I have a few medical conditions, which I have had to learn to deal with since my childhood. This has meant that I’ve had special schooling, and I graduated from Torah Learning Centre in 2013. Afterwards I was employed at Kadimah, partly doing production and partly assisting with computer work. I met several nice work colleagues there. I passed my driver’s test at 18 and really enjoy driving. Everyone says that I am a very careful and good driver.

I realised that many business people were very busy and didn’t want to waste their time standing in queues at home affairs to get papers or at embassies to deliver or collect passports or parcels. This gave me the idea to start my own business. I decided that my slogan would be, “When your time is too precious to waste, call Gopher Adam.” A gopher does any work and also it can sound like ‘Go for Adam!’ I had business cards made up and now I have some regular clients who are very happy with my work.

From the time I was a young boy I found it quite difficult to make friends as children my age didn’t really understand my challenges. Then I heard about Friendship Circle. There, we were all of different ages with different special needs, yet everyone was happy and felt special. Nobody felt that his special needs were a problem at all, so everyone had fun. I found friends and we all had great fun doing lots of activities and going on outings. We laughed a lot and learned lots of things. Leah and the volunteers were always so kind and caring to everyone. They worked hard to make every meeting fun. I looked forward to our meetings and was always sad when for some reason I couldn’t attend.

The volunteers who help out at FC found that they became happy doing things that made others happy. I was given a special person (buddy) to help and spend time with during the activities. Then a great thing happened for me, as Leah invited me to become a part-time staff member to assist them and the volunteers with shopping, stocktaking, and some of the organisation for activities. This opportunity has made me feel so trusted and I am available to assist with anything that is needed. I hope that FC continues to grow stronger and stronger because the circle is a very important part of so many lives.


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