Jewish Journal

Briefs: Special needs kids program needs help; Singles and greening become Big Sunday specialties

Posted on Feb. 7, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Special-Needs Program in Jeopardy

A program for kids with emotional and behavioral disabilities is in danger of closing before the end of this school year if it does not come up with new sources of funding.

Kol Hanearim runs self-contained classrooms in day schools for kids who have been diagnosed with conditions such as Aspergers syndrome, juvenile bipolar disorder or severe attention deficit. One of the original sources of funding has run dry, and Kol Hanearim is currently conducting an emergency appeal through synagogues to make payroll for its two part-time and one full-time teacher, four aides and administrator.

"What is really sad is that the program is thriving, the host schools are thriving, the kids are doing great, but somehow the community has not responded," said Manette Cogan, one of a small group of parents who founded the program three years ago.

Kol Hanearim addresses a hole in the city's Jewish educational structure by following a model that has worked well in other cities. Existing day schools each take an age cohort of students with special needs and carry them through first through eighth grade.

Host schools supply the classrooms, Kol Hanearim supplies the teachers, and the two work together to find mainstreaming opportunities, whether that is recess and lunch or a Bible and math class.

Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills has hosted kids, currently in fifth through eighth grade, for three years; Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood has had first- through fourth-graders since last year.

Eight children are currently enrolled, and Cogan says the program is built for more than 20 students, with proper funding.

Kol Hanearim spends more than $30,000 annually per student, more than parents can pay in tuition. The program needs about $180,000 to be able to keep the doors open through the end of the year.

But, Cogan said, it's often a difficult message to sell. Many potential donors feel they have fulfilled their special-needs obligations by donating to other programs, such as the Etta Israel Center, which deals primarily with developmental disabilities.

Emotional and behavioral disabilities are often more difficult for donors to grasp, since the kids look fine and many do stay in day schools, though they suffer academically and socially.

"It's hard for people to understand that the diagnoses from which [these kids] suffer have internal, invisible ramifications that are very painful and debilitating and keep them from functioning anywhere close to their capacity," Cogan said.

Without such a specialized program like Kol Hanearim, kids can end up feeling awkward and unable to keep up with a curriculum not designed with their specific diagnoses in mind. Often, the kids end up getting kicked out of day schools and feel rejected by Judaism.

"The place where they should feel nurtured and wanted, and where their siblings feel nurtured and wanted, becomes a place of great pain because it's a place of rejection," Cogan said. "It ends up being a great loss to the child, to the family and to the community." Kol Hanearim can be reached at (323) 761-8771, khkids@gmail.com --Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Singles and Green Become Big Sunday Specialties

Big Sunday, the ever-expanding Southern California annual volunteer weekend, announced plans for Big Sunday '08 Thursday night at the Bel-Air Presbyterian Church.

The event, which last year drew more than 50,000 volunteers to work at 300 venues, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. David Levinson, a screenwriter and playwright who at Temple Israel of Hollywood founded the project as a Mitzvah Day and has expanded it exponentially, serves as executive director. On Thursday, Levinson announced two new facets to this year's Big Sunday: Singles Sunday, with projects designed for the unattached, and Green Sunday, an environmental initiative.

Singles Sunday will include volunteer opportunities designated "For Singles," in the hopes that through them volunteers will meet that special, philanthropic someone. So far, two projects are marked as such, with the expectation that more will follow.

Green Sunday will also be in its first year and will focus on environmental volunteer work, including beach cleaning, tree planting and gardening. Among its main goals, however, will be to recycle all the plastic water bottles discarded by Big Sunday volunteers. Green Sunday organizers are hoping to spread an environmental message as well, that change can be incremental and even small gestures count.

Finally, the other big news in 2008 is that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa this year will no longer be a full partner in Big Sunday. Since the focus of the mayor's office has by its very nature been with the City of Los Angeles, whereas Big Sunday runs projects all the way from Orange County to Ventura County to the Inland Empire, after two years of collaborating the mayor and Big Sunday together made the decision for the split, which Levinson called "mutual and amicable." Additionally, Big Sunday organizers felt that the move echoed the need to keep Big Sunday apolitical.

The mayor's office will still be running a "day of service" in Chatsworth.

Big Sunday organizers hope that this year's weekend will be the biggest yet.

"There's something for every age, passion and talent," Levinson said. "Everybody has a way to help somebody else."

Beginning April 1, volunteers can sign up for projects at www.bigsunday.org. Organizations wishing to participate, or to make a contribution, can contact Big Sunday now via the Web site.

-- Alex Collins-Shotwell, Contributing Writer

Interest-Free Loans Offered to AJU Students

The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) unveiled last week a new program for students at American Jewish University (AJU).

The Ziering Family Student Loan Fund will provide an average of $3,000 in interest-free loans to qualified undergraduate and graduate students.

"JFLA is committed to meeting the changing needs of the community, and we know students at the American Jewish University will benefit from the expanded assistance JFLA can now provide," CEO Mark Meltzer said in a statement.

The association, a beneficiary of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, offers various loans to members of all faiths.

For more information, visit www.jfla.org or call (323) 761-8830.

-- Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

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