A recent national Parade magazine article titled, “Who Will Care for Dana” spoke to a major issue for many parents of kids with special needs—will there be a warm, safe and loving home environment for all the soon-to-be adults with developmental disabilities? And even more pointedly, who will pay for it?
With one in every 110 children (and one in 70 for boys ) now diagnosed with autism, there is simply not enough housing to accommodate the landslide of adults coming of age who will need to find a home away from their parents’ house in the next few years. When we visited Israel last Passover, we spent a delightful day at Kibbutz Kishor located in the northern hills of the Galilee and home to 140 residents with special needs, along with paid staff and volunteers. A friend of ours from Los Angeles had made the appointment, and was there with her family (they also have a teenager with developmental disabilities).
Our two families drove in from Jerusalem (unknowingly picking one of the worst days possible to do so during the Passover holiday, and ended up a traffic jam rivaling the 405 during rush hour). Once we arrived at Kishor, we took a long exhale when we saw the beautiful flowers, trees, and pastoral surroundings.
We first met with Shuki Levinger, the CEO of the program, who shared with us the history and vision of the program. The village of Kishorit was the brainchild of Israeli families who came together in 1994 with professionals in the field to find a better alternative for their disabled loved ones than what was then available –either an institutional structure with little individual independence or stuck at home with aging parents.
After a decade, Kishorit became an integral part of Kibbutz Kishor, and received the status of Associate Kibbutz as part of the Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza’ir kibbutz movement. The most remarkable thing about the Kibbutz is that residents have many different opportunities for meaningful work, from helping to manufacture old-style wooden toys to different agricultural work, such as helping with the goat farm or organic egg farm specializing in miniature schnauzers and dachshunds, with the champion blue ribbons and trophies to show for it!
One interesting side note: During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Kishorit (which is very close to the border) was heavily impacted by the rain of Katyusha missiles and it was impossible to move the entire community including the medical and psychological support team, so they made the decision to stay put. Many of the northern residents in the area moved south but couldn’t take their dogs with them, so Kishorit, with its many kennels and dog food supplies, became the safe haven for many of the dogs in the area for the duration of the war.
Even with Israeli government funding and the various industries, Kishorit still has a hard time meeting all of its expenses. Many staff members live right on the kibbutz, creating a wonderful sense of community. Residents have their own private living spaces, with staff assistance available as needed.
Shuki explained to us that the Kishorit founders and staff wanted to expand their work in the Arab Israeli sector, and hoped to create a multicultural community but it became clear that that community needed to maintain their ethnic and religious identities in a distinct community setting and a sister facility called “Alfanara” (“the Lighthouse”) was created a and although residents from the two facilities don’t live together they do work together in some vocational venues.
While Shuki was talking, our son Danny nibbled on some matzah and macaroons, and he seemed bored and disengaged, but when Shuki asked if we had any questions, Danny piped up with one word: “Pool? “ Shuki assured us that a pool was in the future plans.
As we left Kishorit, we saw residents working with the dogs, and strolling along the pathways, it began to feel more and more like a promised land.
Links to other special needs stories/programs in Israel which I have learned about (not by any means exhaustive):
1) National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), My Story “The Other Side of the River” by Chaya Ben Baruch, Safed Israel.
2) Eliya-Israel Association for the Advancement of Blind and Visually Impaired Children –comprehensive programs and services for infants and young children, from all backgrounds and sectors. For more information click here
3)Israel Unlimited and JDC Supportive Communities In Israel
Israel Unlimited is a strategic partnership between the Government of Israel, JDC-Israel and the Ruderman Family Foundation, and promotes independent living and participation in the community using model programs such as Supportive Communities for the Disabled and Centers for Independent Living.
The target population of Israel Unlimited is 697,000 adults with physical, sensory, emotional, cognitive and health related disabilities, who live in the community.
Supportive communities are based on an independent living model for the elderly, with clients receiving a “basket” of comprehensive services including a professional/volunteer team who come into the client’s neighborhood. There are currently 20 Supportive Communities in Israel providing day to day assistance to 1,500 individuals and 4,00 family members, among them 700 children under the age of 18 so they can continued to live independently at home.