Betsy Gidwitx Reports


Home visits for these youngsters are problematic, Rabbi Glick stated. In theory, it is wise to help institutionalized children maintain contact with their families. However, some of the families are so dysfunctional that re-entry of the young person into such an aberrant home situation, even if for only a weekend, may damage the child. On a purely economic level, Rabbi Glick continued, such visits may be costly to the residential programs because parents or other relatives may steal the clothing or shoes that the child is wearing and/or bringing with them (and sell the items in a street bazaar).

 

Reduced financial resources also have led to the cessation of a welfare program for local Jewish families in economic distress. In the past, Tzivos Hashem distributed food parcels and purchased children's clothing for impoverished Jewish families. The recipients usually were single-parent families and situations in which children were being cared for by grandparents. However, Rabbi Glick said, such assistance no longer is possible.

 

 

30. The Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister program in Dnipropetrovsk is an outgrowth of the Dnipropetrovsk Kehilla Project of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.[62] Adapted from the Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Boston, the Dnipropetrovsk program (Старший брат, старшая сестра) is now in its Bar Mitzvah year of operation, funded almost entirely by an allocation from Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Jewish federation in Boston.

 

The Dnipropetrovsk project currently (spring 2013) serves 70 pairs of children and young adults in its regular program, said Tanya Kaplunskaya, its director, and another 15 pairs in a special section that joins tenth and eleventh graders with fifth graders in the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish day school. Two of the younger "siblings" are Down syndrome youngsters, and five have cerebral palsy, noted Ms. Kaplunskaya. It is important to integrate special-needs children in the community, she said. Other children and their parents now are much more understanding of these children than they were even five years ago, added Ms. Kaplunskaya.

 

Tanya Kaplunskaya is a member of a family long involved in the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community.

 

 

Photo: the writer.

 

Recognizing that many "older brothers and sisters" in Ukraine lack the resources to plan and carry out the individual outings that characterize many JBB/BS relationships in the United States, the Dnipropetrovsk program operates a number of large events in which many pairs participate, such as trips to skating rinks and amusement parks. One such event in recent months, said Ms. Kaplunskaya, was a visit by almost all participants to a local orphanage that accommodates 174 Ukrainian children. The Jewish group brought toys and other small gifts, and the two groups socialized and danced with each other. On another occasion, she continued, the Dnipropetrovsk JBB/BS group participated in the Havaya winter camp that brings together Boston, Dnipropetrovsk, and Israel teens. Teams representing each of the three groups participated in various competitions in a large sports hall that had been rented for a day. In all, Ms. Kaplunskaya stated, about 200 people were involved. Members of the Hillel student group, she added, did much of the organizational work for the event.

 

In response to a question, Ms. Kaplunskaya said that a waiting list of prospective "little brothers and sisters" exists. In some cases, the issue is finding an appropriate older "sibling". However, financial resources also are a concern, as is the matter of administering such a large group. Nonetheless, she continued, unmatched children often are invited to attend group events anyway, and efforts are made to include them in all activities.

 

Asked if the program had an office in the new Menorah Center, Ms. Kaplunskaya responded that her office was mobile, located in different caf├ęs in the city. No one in the Chabad administration had contacted her about office space, she said; understanding that such space in the Center would require payment, she continued, she has not pursued the matter herself. Notwithstanding any perceived loss of status due to an absence of official premises, said Ms. Kaplunskaya, the JBB/BS program considers itself "part of the community" (часть общины). Such a sense of belonging is very important, she continued, especially because it brings "status" to volunteers. "Status" is of great consequence in difficult times, such as the current economic climate, she said.

 

 

31. A Special Needs Educational Resource Center, located in a wing of the Beit Chana Jewish Women's Pedagogical College,[63] enrolls 54 Jewish children, adolescents, and a few young adults. Thirteen are autistic, said Director Tamara Olshanitskaya, and others are intellectually impaired or have other disabilities. A few have not been diagnosed precisely, said Ms. Olshanitskaya, but it is clear that they are severely impaired and unable to attend conventional public schools.

 

Youngsters are assigned to one of four groups. In the first group, said Ms. Olshanitskaya, children with disabilities are being prepared for entrance into public schools with special education classes. In the second, children are taught very basic skills two or three days each week; their disabilities are so profound that future school attendance is unlikely. Children in the third group already are enrolled in public schools, but come to the Center after school for further therapies. The fourth group, Ms. Olshanitsakya continued, have "aged out" of the regular program, but come to the Center once each week for con-tinuing activity. Additionally, said Ms. Olshanitskaya, staff from the Center visit some homebound young-sters for home tutoring.

 

 

Tamara Olshanitskaya, above, has led the Resource Center since its inception. At left, some youngsters from group two learn basic skills with their mothers. Other youngsters from this group are in different teaching areas.

Photos: the writer.

 

In all, the Resource Center has eight teaching/therapy spaces in five classrooms of varying sizes and one sports hall. Additionally, the Center has an outdoor play area with equipment designed for special needs children. Youngsters are served meals prepared in the Beit Chana kitchen.

 

Too often, said Ms. Olshanitskaya, fathers abandon their families after the birth of special needs children. The demands of caring for such children preclude the mothers from gainful employment, so the families sink into poverty and despair. Thus, the Resource Center operates a welfare program and various social and educational activities for mothers, who usually accompany their children to the Center. Although local education authorities are increasingly aware of their responsibility to this segment of the population and are beginning to expand special education programs in public schools, Ms. Olshanitskaya stated, schools often are ill-prepared for special needs children and parents of other kids do not want special needs children in regular schools.

 

The Resource Center was started with a grant from Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, which remains a significant benefactor. Additional support is provided by the local Chabad philanthropic fund, a young leadership group from CJP, Dr. Judith Wolf and her family from Boston, and several individual donors based in Kyiv.

 

A specially equipped van, with lifts at front right and in the back, recently was donated by CJP to the Resource Center.

 

Photo: the writer.

 

CJP also supports a continuing education program for Resource Center staff. Gordon College in Haifa[64] provides ongoing education through a weekly video conference with staff from both the Resource Center and from the Tikvah special needs program operated by the Joint Distribution Committee.[65] Gordon College also offers distance learning courses in special education.


[62] See pages 87-87 for further information about the ties between Dnipropetrovsk and Boston.

[63] See pages 59-60 for additional information about Beit Chana.

[64] Haifa is Boston's sister-city in Israel; the two cities are further linked through the Partnership 2Gether program of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

[65] Some Dnipropetrovsk Jewish special needs children participate in both the Resource Center and the JDC Tikvah program. The Resource Center program is more comprehensive and focuses more on education, whereas the Tikvah program is more social and recreational in character. Some Resource Center children enjoy an animal therapy program provided by JDC, said Ms. Olshanitskaya. See page 85.

 
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