By Rochelle Maruch Miller
In the spring of 2013, two Yeshiva University undergraduate students, Yair Sapirstein of Cedarhurst and Yosefa Silber of Monsey, founded TEACH, an extraordinary initiative aimed at using exciting programming to stimulate the minds and bodies of hospitalized children. The idea was to bring an element of fun and excitement to an otherwise monotonous day, thereby challenging and empowering the children to reach for the stars. At the time, Yosefa was a sophomore at Stern and Yair was a senior at Yeshiva College. Individually, they both had witnessed the major deficit in stimulation that hospitalized patients suffer.
“After shadowing a pediatric neurologist, I saw that the kids—both the patients and their siblings—lacked social interaction,” said Yosefa, explaining the impetus behind the creation of the program. “There were so many of my friends interested in teaching who wanted to help, so we decided to do something.”
Yair had also been exposed to the need in various capacities while volunteering in hospitals and, as the founder of START Science, a nonprofit education program that brings science modules to classrooms, he had a passion for leadership and for education.
Sharing a common goal, they each sought advice from many of Yeshiva University’s distinguished faculty members, accumulating a wealth of resources, although neither student knew of the other’s quest. Upon their eventual mutual discovery, the two students decided to work in tandem and pool their respective resources and concepts to create an initiative that would ameliorate the situation.
“We both wanted to have an impact on the world and particularly to influence kids—which has the biggest impact,” said Yair, a second-year resident in internal medicine at SUNY Downstate, and a proud alumnus of Albert Einstein School of Medicine, Yeshiva College, DRS Yeshiva High School, and HAFTR Elementary School and Middle School, as well as a proud member of Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst. “The idea of working in inpatient playrooms was Sefa’s brainchild, and I thought of the science modules; together, TEACH was born.”
Ultimately, it was Dr. Edward Burns, executive dean at Einstein, who was instrumental in helping the pair bring the program to fruition by personally funding the pilot program and assisting in securing funds from Einstein’s community-based service learning, which helps students who serve vulnerable populations and have an input on health and social-justice issues through community engagement.
Launched in 2013, the initiative’s objective is to create an outlet for children to passionately engage with the sciences through the medium of fun, interactive experiences.
Working under the mentorship and guidance of Dr. Burns, TEACH embarked on its mission to help bring excitement, educational stimulation, and social interaction back into the daily lives of these children. Beginning with just a handful of students who visited the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx once a month, they performed captivating science experiments with the children, to the wide-eyed wonder of the appreciative participants. Truly miracle workers, the volunteers regard their mission as a labor of love. TEACH4Kids has impacted the lives of everyone who has experienced its daily miracles.
“Having launched TEACH as a medical student, I had the ability to work in the hospital, delivering medical care, entertainment, and warmth,” says Yair. “This has impacted me now as a resident; I chair the Wellness Committee at Downstate, often bringing my ukulele to work, and try to do the same, bringing both care and fun to my patients.”
Since its inception, TEACH has evolved into an international nonprofit organization that continues to bring hands-on, educational activities to pediatric patients in over 22 hospitals across the U.S. and Israel.
“When TEACH volunteers visit, kids get excited and get to experience science, art, history, and other important topics through more than 75 interactive modules,” explained Isaac Snyder, president of TEACH. “Patients can learn about real-life concepts while also having an exceptional amount of fun. They are amazed as they create silly putty while they learn about polymers and use basic engineering principles to build boats that really float. Observing the science of physiological respiration using yeast to inflate an air balloon or discovering density by creating their own lava lamps changes the way they view science, their stay in the hospital, and life.” Transforming the dismal atmosphere to one of delight, the volunteers are an eagerly anticipated source of succor and support, encouraging children to think creatively while exploring a world previously beyond their reach.
Says Isaac, “TEACH has been able to serve over 1,700 children in 22 hospitals in the United States and Israel but hopes to expand in the coming year to reach even more children. To help make TEACH’s goal of servicing more children in the coming years a reality, please consider donating to TEACH.”
He adds, “In addition to expanding to additional hospitals, TEACH is looking for more students and professionals who would like to get involved with the organization. If you would like to make a difference in a child’s life, please contact me at Isaac.Snyder@TEACH4Kids.org.
Isaac cited TEACH as the reason he changed his career goals and decided to pursue a career in medicine in order to treat children. “The pure, unadulterated joy that TEACH brings to thousands of children makes me extremely proud to be president of such an organization. My first module that I ran at Downstate Hospital made me want to be as involved as possible. I had a bedside patient who had tried to run away the day before. After I explained the science and we did the yeast balloon module together, not only was the patient super-excited, but he would not let any of the staff take the balloon away from his bed. Seeing how a friendly face and our experiments can drastically change a child’s day spurred me to get as involved as possible with such an amazing organization.”
For further information about TEACH, please visit TEACH4kids.org.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com