Catering to the needs of children and teenagers who are faced with the devastating loss of a parent
By Ilan Preskovsky
Like so many great ideas, LINKS – an organisation dedicated to helping Jewish children and teenagers who lost one or both parents – came from the most humble of beginnings. Sarah Rivkah Kohn was nine years old when her mother passed away and, as an only child, she always sought out other children who were in a similar situation – children who could understand what she was going through, would empathise with her, and who could provide some comfort.
Years later, when Sarah Rivkah was twenty one years old, married and with a child of her own, she was approached by an educator to help launch a newsletter for children who had lost a parent, and, as she puts it, “In a combination of naiveté and idealism I figured…okay, I’ll put together a newsletter. I approached an amazing individual, Mr Chesky Kauftheil of Mishkan Yecheskel charity, and he agreed to fund us for the initial stages.”
This was the beginning of LINKS, an organisation that has taken “we are in this together” as both its slogan and its modus operandi. The newsletter – put together by Sarah Rivkah, her husband, and a few writer friends at their dining room table and distributed to some ten families and forty school principals – quickly proved to be a hit, resonating deeply with its target audience, and by the fourth edition it was already well on its way to becoming something bigger when Sarah Rivkah put in an ad for the readers of the magazine to come meet her and each other for an informal “shmooze”.
Seven girls showed up to that meeting and they had such a “blast putting names to faces” that the girls asked her if she could organise a Shabbaton for them and other girls who had lost a parent. She immediately agreed and the result was a tremendous success: some fifty girls came together to enjoy a Shabbos together and draw great comfort from sharing their experiences with one another. Success led to success and the Shabbaton was followed by more events, which was in turn followed by the establishment of a hotline for bereaved children looking for guidance and comfort and a host of other programmes including everything from stores giving the girls Yom Tov clothes for free, to putting them in touch with a shadchan (matchmaker) when they’re looking to get married, to “shmooze evenings”, where they host talks by major rabbis and other international speakers.
Ever expanding, LINKS is moving from catering mostly to girls to offering similar programmes to boys with “Shlomie’s Club”, founded in 2012 by Mrs Mimi Gross in memory of her husband Shlomie, a”h, and is in the process of creating a new division called “Little LINKS” that caters specifically to girls aged six to twelve. They have two clinicians on staff, Dr Tziporah Koslowitz and Mindy Blumenfeld, LCSW, to help with the more pressing psychological needs of the children and teens. LINKS, Shlomie’s Club, and Little LINKS all add up to a comprehensive organisation that caters to the physical, emotional, psychological, financial, and spiritual needs of children and teenagers who are faced with the horrible loss of a parent at such a young age. Not bad for something that started off as a humble newsletter.
LINKS relies entirely on donations for its operations, both from individuals and organisations – it started with Mishkan Yecheskel but it certainly didn’t end there. Eschewing garish fundraising dinners for smaller, subtler affairs and mostly marketing themselves through word of mouth, they don’t have the funds of bigger organisations, but Sarah Rivkah notes that by budgeting wisely they can really make the most of their limited funds. One area which she does wish they had more money for, though, is in subsidising professional therapy for the children and teens with whom they work. They subsidise, either fully or partially, initial therapy sessions, but, unsurprisingly, many of these children require extensive and long-running therapy far beyond the three-or-so months that LINKS can afford to subsidise. Needless to say, it’s a huge expense that they estimate running to a quite staggering $100K to $150K per year, but it’s something that Sarah Rivkah still hopes to offer in the future.
Considering all that LINKS has already achieved, I certainly wouldn’t count it out. For more information, visit: wereinittogether.org