Parents of special needs kids get nights out
By Deb Silverthorn
B’Yachad means unity of purpose. Temple Emanu-El, with its important work in inclusion, is working with B’Yachad, a community respite care program, in holding six events for families with children who live with special needs.
B’Yachad’s first event premieres from 5 to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25, with future dates scheduled for March 11, April 29, May 6, June 17 and July 22. All programs will be held at Temple Emanu-El.
“It is our goal to make all of Temple life inclusive and welcoming, a place for people of all abilities to share in everything we do. Families have long been championing for inclusion work here at Temple and we couldn’t be prouder to see B’Yachad become a reality,” said Temple Emanu-El’s Rabbi Amy Rossel, who serves as the congregation’s senior director of education and engagement.
“For years, our services, our Youth Learning + Engagement Program and Early Childhood Education Center have all reached out and provided support to our members living with special needs. With B’Yachad, Temple is the safe place for our younger members to be, while their parents get a night out on the town. Our goal is to weave the program throughout our Jewish community,” said Rabbi Rossel.
Funded by a grant of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, the program will provide, monthly, a few hours of structured activities led by trained volunteers. The February event’s calendar includes a Havdalah service, a movie screening with snacks and numerous activities with crafted spaces for those wanting sensory experiences, a calming quiet time, music and arts, glitter tattoos and more.
Participants, those with special needs and neurotypical siblings, up to age 18, are welcome to spend whatever time, in whatever space, keeps them comfortable.
Volunteers must be 18 years of age and register for a minimum of three sessions. They will take part in an initial two-hour online training session and 30-minute orientations before each event to learn about the evening’s guests, boundaries and events as well as each volunteer’s responsibilities.
“We need it, it needs to be top-notch and we’re ready. Parents and families need to know it will be safe and our volunteers will leave with a sense of nachas for themselves. It will be special, and it will be meaningful in every way,” said Rhoni Golden, who, with Barry Rosenberg, co-chairs Temple Emanu-El’s inclusion working group.
Golden and her husband, Barry, are the parents of Zoe, Gray and Lena. She was inspired to bring the program to Temple after her son — who lives with autism and is nonverbal — spent years attending a similarly styled program at Highland Park United Methodist Church.
“The Night OWLS program was amazing and there was a waiting list for months and months. Once in, you could drop off your child, a backpack and meds knowing they’d call if they needed to, [but] they never called, they never needed to. I knew our community needed such a program and Temple, so good at including so much, is just the right place to kick this off,” said Golden.
Rosenberg and his wife, Shelly, are the parents of Brinson, Campbell and Ronen. Ronen lives with Down syndrome and Campbell is on the autism spectrum. Knowing firsthand how much all children want to feel part of their community drives Rosenberg’s spirit.
“This is an opportunity like no greater gift to a parent. Jews talk about being community builders and it’s important to mean our whole community. When we drive by Temple Ronen says, ‘It’s Shabbat,’ and he’s always ready to run into the building. He’ll wave to the rabbis from our seats in the balcony, he knows the security guards, the food service staff — he feels at home,” said Rosenberg.
Joining Rabbi Rossel, Golden and Rosenberg in making B’Yachad a reality have been Temple staffers Karin Lester, director of family engagement; Shira Stevenson, director of small groups and diversity; and Erica Strauss, director of social justice, engagement and inclusion groups.
“Making B’Yachad happen permeates the message ‘We welcome anyone and everyone’ truly. It’s all about being seen, felt and known. There is nothing more important, nothing more precious for our children and ourselves,” said Rosenberg.
For more information or to register to participate or volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.