March 2019 -- Adar I-Adar II 5779,  Volume 25, Issue 3

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Congregation Kol Ami’s Inclusion Program Produces Results

Staff Report

 

For 11 years, Congregation Kol Ami has been conducting an inclusion program for teens and young adults aged 13-21 with learning, cognitive and emotional development challenges called Yad b’Yad {Hand in Hand}. Part of the Religious School, the program’s concept is fashioned to be one of a kind and academic while teaching critical skills and sharing Jewish knowledge.

 

Teacher Jessica Yablow says that the program provides a curriculum that increases social savvy. A key part of Yad  b’Yad,  is that students are paired with middle and high school peer mentors to bridge the gap. Students bond with each other over dinner or trips into the community.

 

“ In our Religious School classes,  we have just acknowledged February as Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. For the Yad b’Yad program, we have specialists that come to our weekly classes and they interact with students that might have emotional challenges, disabilities or on the autism spectrum,” Yablow mentions. “We also integrate yoga and dancing into the classes that meet Wednesdays from 6-8pm and on Sunday mornings.”

 

Relying on grants, the program has expanded each year. A student or his/her family does not have to be a member of the synagogue to attend the program. The initiative was created to fill the void for Jewish teens in Westchester County. This is a segment of the population that needs to learn life and social skills and the program gives them an opportunity to practice what they have learned.

 

“I have been a Special Education Teacher for 15 years,” adds Yablow, “and it is the best feeling to see these young people who have attended our program, grow up and go out in the community and function because of the skills we have taught them.”

Many graduates of the program have been thriving through the social skills taught through Yad b’Yad. Some former students come back to visit the class and explain how they have progressed.

“It’s an amazing program,” believes Yablow. “Every parent says the program has changed the lives of this underserved group of students.”

Inclusion work is often challenging, but the Congregation Kol Ami community has tried to break down the barriers to disabled Jewish exclusion by continuing to run Yad b’Yad. The Synagogue has a vibrant, caring and diverse Reform congregation of 800 families located at 252 Soundview Avenue, White Plains.

 

The Synagogue is currently enrolling new students. To learn more about the Yad b’Yad program, contact Kay Osborne at 949-4717 ext. 125.