The Northeast Yachad Family Shabbaton, which was held this year in Stamford, CT, is an annual event where families with special needs members mingle. The families share information, stories and experiences with each other, while the typically developing children hang out with friends they’ve met at prior Shabbatons, attend sibling workshops, or go to an all-day daycare, depending upon their ages. There are programs for siblings and parents to share their feelings and experiences with each other as well as to learn new information to benefit the Yachad member, the siblings, and the parents. In addition to their own programs and activities, the special ed members are paired with a counselor with whom they sing, talk and interact.
My entire family loves going to the Shabbaton. Year after year, we all want to attend! We all like the break in routine and enjoy Shabbat in a nice hotel with friends, good food and a variety of activities. We also like being in a non-judgmental atmosphere where everyone is accepted.
I especially like attending because I know that I can help my two special needs daughters by finding answers to whatever questions I have. The Shabbaton provides parents with talks and sessions about special needs children which help to answer my questions. As always, there were presentations, ranging from well-led support groups to advice about dealing with education, transition to adult life, sibling support, taking care of oneself and many more.
I also enjoy talking with other parents and sharing experiences and thoughts. I see most of these people only once a year so there is plenty to catch up on. Observing the Yachad members also is a great source of joy; so many have accomplished so much. There are young adults who were barely able to communicate just a few years ago (or so it seems) who now are working in typical workplaces, traveling by subway and bus, and taking charge of their own lives. They and their parents have accomplished so much with the help of Yachad . I also enjoy noting how relaxed everyone is; perhaps this is because everyone knows their special needs child/relative is accepted there, and well taken care of. No one stares or asks unwanted/silly questions, they just accept the child.
My older daughter, Rochel, 26, enjoys the opportunities to socialize and participate in fun activities with other Yachad members. She had a great time chatting with her one-on-one advisor and just “hanging out.” She also enjoys catching up with friends from Yachad, school, and camp whom she doesn’t see during the year.
Malka, my 25-year-old daughter, enjoys being on her own. She prefers to walk around the hotel which (thank God) was a safe environment and to nosh too much on snacks such as fruit, cookies, chips and candy. She loves seeing everything and soaking in the experience. She also loves salad and took full advantage of the well-stocked salad bars which were available at every meal.
We hardly saw Reuven, our 13-year-old typically developing son. He liked seeing his fellow siblings he hasn’t seen since the last Shabbaton, being able to talk and “chill” with them. He also loved running around, playing games and staying up until 3 a.m. (a once a year treat). He enjoyed being in the audience of a Motza’ei Shabbat game show followed by a swim. And, I am proud to say, he still woke up in time for minyan. He also enjoyed the hotel, the meals, the comfortable beds and relaxed atmosphere as well as the pool.
My husband also liked the variety of presentations, the availability of seforim at the hotel, as well as the choice of minyanim – Carlebach, Ashkenazi, and Sephardic. He enjoyed talking to friends and being able to relax.
The Shabbaton is a wonderful experience for everyone, regardless of age or ability. We can’t wait for next year!