Yachad | Jewish Disabilities Integration today announces the expansion of its Chicago Chapter with the addition of new professional staff and programming.
Yachad/the National Jewish Council for Disabilities is a non-profit agency of the Orthodox Union dedicated to enhancing the opportunities of individuals with disabilities, promoting Inclusion through various integrated activities and ensuring their participation in the full mainstream of Jewish life.
Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, National Director of Yachad, declared, “under the tireless professional leadership of Efrem Popel, and with the support of Lay Chair Chaim Suss and other Lay Leaders, Chicago Yachad has grown in all areas. We anticipate continued growth through significant outreach, and with the advent of new services including badly needed vocational services for adults and clinical services for individuals with disabilities and for their family members.”
Chaim Suss, Chairman of Chicago Yachad, stated, “The quality and quantity of our programs here in Chicago necessitated increased staff on the ground in order to ensure a continued high quality of professional programming across all divisions.”
Yachad senior staff includes: Efrem Popel, Director of Chicago Yachad; Sara Bernstein, Senior Coordinator; Elisheva Klein, Senior Yachad Program Assistant; Dena Krinsky, Junior Yachad Coordinator; and Chava Volinsky, Junior Yachad Program Assistant.
Chicago Yachad has two divisions of programming for individuals with disabilities, in addition to providing a variety of services available to both families and the general public in continuous efforts to educate the Greater Chicago community about the value of Inclusion.
Senior Yachad provides programming for Jewish teens and young adults aged approximately 16-32 with mainstream students who participate in the programming as peers from Ida Crown Jewish Academy, Skokie Yeshiva, Midwest NCSY (the OU’s international youth movement), and Hannah Sacks Bais Yaakov.
“Our newest Division, Junior Yachad, has taken off as a smashing success and with a great deal of enthusiasm,” shared Mr. Popel. Focusing on Jewish children ages eight through 16, programming is mainstreamed with middle school students from Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School and Junior NCSY.
Efrem Popel, now the Director, served as Chapter Coordinator in the Windy City since its establishment eight years ago. He noted, “The expansion of staff and programming allows Yachad to work in a team approach for supervision and provide more programming for all of our divisions.” Additionally, a Mother’s Support Group is in development, based upon a request which arose at this year’s annual Midwest Yachad Family Shabbaton in Chicago.
Mr. Popel emphasized, “Some family members of our Yachad members have told me that Yachad is the only Jewish programming for their child on a weekly basis. Participation in Yachad has become very popular in the Midwest. For mainstream high schoolers, Yachad has created a culture where it is cool to hang out and develop friendships with Yachad members with disabilities. These peers are the ones who grow and develop in tolerance for differences and appreciation of diversity.”
Expanded programming includes:
• Social Recreational Activities --All activities are conducted with an appropriate peer group of either elementary or high school students (including neon bowling and having burgers; ice skating; IMAX; mini-golfing; attending a Chicago Bulls game; ice cream social; movie night; a concert; and Jump Zone.)
• Shabbatons -- Three annual “Senior Shabbatons” held in the West Rogers Park/Skokie/Lincolnwood community; the Bi-annual Hartman Family Foundation Family Shabbaton; and three Midwest NCSY Regional Conventions.
• Spiritual Programs -- Inclusive programming is based around the Jewish holidays and includes a Sukkah hop through West Rogers Park; a Purim party; model Passover Seder; and making latkes on Chanukah.
• Educational Learning Programs -- Participants learn about their Jewish heritage and develop vital social skills; Banim Atem L'Hashem Boys Chavruta learning program at Skokie Yeshiva, which includes studying Jewish subjects; dinner and socialization; and davening with the 12th grade class. It’s a “going to yeshiva” experience.
• Relationships/Social Skills Classes -- Yachad offers a Relationship Building Course which is set up on a college three-semester schedule. Designed by the National Yachad team of social workers, activities range from developing friendship, and self-help skills, to restaurant ordering and how to have an effective conversation with a peer.
• Communal Integration --Yachad ensures that all of our members are part of the greater Chicago community and have the ability to participate in all areas of communal life.
• North American Inclusion Month (NAIM) -- Educating the Chicago Jewish Community on Inclusion. This program takes place annually in February.
OU | Enhancing Jewish Life