New England Yachad Awarded $50,000 Ruderman Family Foundation Grant To Expand Inclusive Programming

December 10, 2013

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By Batya Rosner

It’s Yachad’s mission to improve the life of those living with a disability in the Jewish community and to create opportunities for everyone to participate in Jewish life, according to their ability. But not everyone who would benefit from Yachad’s mission of inclusion lives right in the heart of the Jewish community. Sometimes, Yachad needs to look a little further afield.

Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD), is the flagship agency of the Orthodox Union which provides unique social, educational and recreational programs for individuals with learning, developmental and physical disabilities. Its goal is to promote their inclusion in the life of the Jewish community.

Dedicated to turning these ideals into reality, the Ruderman Family Foundation has partnered with New England Yachad by awarding a $50,000 grant to expand inclusive programming outside the Greater Boston Metropolitan area.

The Ruderman Family Foundation, based in the United States and Israel, supports effective programs, innovative partnerships and a dynamic approach to philanthropy advocating for and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the Jewish community.

“The mission statements of Yachad and the Ruderman Family Foundation are so intertwined, it’s a blessing that we are able to partner together to continue promoting inclusion throughout the New England region,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, international director of Yachad/NJCD. “There are hundreds of families who would be able to benefit from Yachad’s services and inclusive programming; and now, together with the Ruderman Family Foundation, we will better be able to reach and assist those individuals.”

New England Yachad was approached this Fall as a potential applicant to receive a grant by the Foundation.

“Young people with disabilities are often socially challenged and isolated,” described Liz Offen, director of New England Yachad. “When our Yachad participants were willing to drive close to an hour each way to attend a Boston program, we realized that we could have an even greater impact on their lives if we could bring our programming to them.”

She continued, “This project targets dozens of individuals and families bringing inclusive social/recreational activities to communities currently lacking these vital programs, minimizing isolation while promoting and fostering friendships.”

A Plan of Action

Each geographic area identified for the Ruderman Family Foundation grant has a unique plan of action based upon the needs of the community in order to establish sustainable services and inclusive programs where they do not currently exist. The grant will fund part-time positions for the North Shore and South Area; and a social worker at Jewish Family Services of Metrowest. These positions will allow New England Yachad to offer similar opportunities and in some cases more than what currently exists in the Greater Boston programs, Offen noted.

“I have been impressed with Yachad’s national model,” stated Sharon Shapiro, Ruderman Family Foundation trustee. “Yachad’s work embodies the core belief of our foundation that ‘including each is strengthening all.’ Liz Offen is an inclusion specialist. Many people in the community feel comfortable with her because she understands the needs of individuals of all ages with disabilities. Yachad works with children, teens and adults with and without disabilities, understanding the importance of inclusion to help create a fair and flourishing Jewish community.”

Programming for the new geographic expansions funded by the Ruderman Family Foundation have already hit the ground running with great potential: In the North Shore, New England Yachad has reached out to the local Jewish Community Center and synagogues, working to coordinate a welcoming event. An active chapter has developed at The Binah School in Sharon, where mainstream students participate in a yearlong sensitivity training and awareness for disabilities and inclusion (including a visit to the Perkins School for the Blind). They hold monthly programs at school for children in the South Area to do crafts, games, and socialize; a Chanukah party took place during the holiday.

Upcoming activities in the South Area include team building and rockwall climbing at The RockSpot in Boston on Monday, December 23 and pottery painting at Ceramics-a-la-Carte on Sunday, December 29. Additionally, three Shabbatons and a bowl-a-thon are to be scheduled. “Our annual Tu B’Shevat seder with Congregation Shaarei Tefillah in Newton on Sunday, January 19, is one of the highlights of the year,” Offen also shared. “Last year, 125 people attended.”

New England Yachad is fostering partnerships to secure partners across Massachusetts with local synagogues, social service agencies, schools and the broad Jewish community to expand awareness, increase programming, and support families of individuals with disabilities.

For further information and to get involved with New England Yachad, contact Liz Offen at {encode=”NewEnglandYachad@ou.org” title=”NewEnglandYachad@ou.org”} or 646.628.7003.

OU | Enhancing Jewish Life