One of Agudah’s proudest accomplishments in recent years is the launch of Yahalom, an Agudah program that has quickly become the primary address for families of children with special needs.
Agudah’s New Jersey office just held an incredible event in recognition and support of Yahalom and the families they serve in Lakewood’s LTC office. The event hosts – Michael Baumann, Mendy Josefovic, and Binyomin Mandelbaum of LTC – and their co-hosts Jack Klugman, Shalom Stein, and Reuven Wolf brought together an incredible group of Lakewood baalei batim to learn more about the challenges facing the special needs community in Lakewood, hear how Yahalom has stood up to address those challenges, and discuss what more can be done.
“Yahalom is proof that dreams do come true,” said Rabbi Avi Schnall, Director of Agudah’s New Jersey office, while relating the story of Yahalom’s founding.
It’s been nearly two years since Rabbi Schnall met with five Lakewood mothers of children with special needs to discuss the lack of resources for the special needs community in Lakewood.
“At first, I was surprised by the complaint,” said Rabbi Schnall. “Baruch Hashem, Lakewood is home to dozens of incredible organizations who provide a variety of amazing services – what could be missing?”
The mothers shared their experiences of the difficult journey they had each traveled. When a family has a child with special needs, they face a maze of endless questions; where to go for medical care, which school is best equipped to address their child’s educational needs, which in- network therapists cater to their child’s age and diagnosis, how can they access government funding to cover the myriad expenses related to their child’s care? Without direction, each question necessitates a string of grueling phone calls, tedious research, and the all-too-real possibility that the answers may never be found.
While there are many organizations providing great services, there was a critical piece missing. Families needed a home base; a central address to turn to for advice and direction for every need and at every stage.
“We were missing the glue,” explained Rabbi Schnall “someone who could be there to help every family walk along this path.”
Following his conversation with these mothers, Rabbi Schnall arranged another meeting with a group of amazing Lakewood askonim including Moshe Netzer, Moshe Tress, Shmuli Werdiger, and Shloimy Zeldes to discuss the challenges and vision shared by these incredible women. Their response was unanimous – we must do something. That’s when Yahalom was born.
Yahalom NJ launched under the leadership of Mrs. Chana Laniado, whose endless energy and tireless devotion has taken Yahalom from concept to reality and far beyond. Yahalom’s holistic approach in assisting families of children with special needs was game changing; suddenly, families had a single address; someone to turn to for guidance throughout their journey no matter the issue at hand.
“Yahalom is there to help families with everything, Rabbi Schnall related, “from SSI, to accessing funding for a wheelchair ramp, to meal assistance when a child is in a hospital,
to finding babysitters who are available to watch children with special needs, to locating a dentist who can accommodate a child with Down’s Syndrome.”
“When Yahalom NJ took off, the national special needs community was ablaze. Everyone
recognized the need and the value for such an organization and they wanted it in their
communities as well.” shared Rabbi Schnall. In months following Yahalom NJ’s launch, Agudah opened Yahalom branches in both New York and Chicago with equal success. Additionally, Yahalom’s newest branch in Florida is scheduled to launch in the next few weeks.
Since its inception, Yahalom has been met with incredible success. They’ve launched dozens of incredible initiatives including case management services, networking and support events for mothers and fathers, a grant application assistance center, a therapy and service provider directory, and peer-to-peer and mentorship support. To date, Yahalom NJ has addressed and resolved over 1,000 cases and serviced nearly 500 Lakewood families.
“It would be easy for us to rest on our laurels and marvel at what has been accomplished locally with Yahalom NJ’s myriad programs or point to the numerous branches that have opened across the country since our inception, but that’s not how we do things. We dream big and besiyata dishmaya we will get there,” declared Rabbi Schnall.