Over the past few years, Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services has developed an incredible “Sibshops” program for children with siblings who have a developmental disability. Ohel does not only help the individuals with special needs, but focuses on the unique needs of their siblings as well.
Ever since the inception of Ohel’s Sibshops program, the response has been overwhelmingly positive from everybody involved, including the members, parents, and families. The children who have been attending the program enjoy it so much that they have consistently asked for more programing, in the form of a sibling shabbaton, or a “Sibatone.”
On Shabbos Parashas B’Shallach, that dream became a reality as eighteen girls aged 12–15, five facilitators, and two families came together for the very first Sibshops Sibatone in Flatbush. Girls from all across Brooklyn and Far Rockaway joined to celebrate their unique bond—that of living with siblings who have developmental disabilities.
Attention to detail was evident from the moment the girls arrived, as they received guest bags containing nosh, drinks, and a collection of inspirational stories, poems, and quotes relating to families of those with special needs. A current of positive energy permeated the entire weekend and conveyed a sense of pride in these girls, in the distinctive role that they were given in regard to their siblings.
Mrs. Chaya Sara Gertzulin uplifted the gathering with her message of praise to siblings who make their special siblings’ neshamos feel welcome and care for them as Miriam cared for baby Moshe as his basket floated in the Nile.
An adult sibling panel offered inspirational words to their younger counterparts, and generated discussions about what to do when people stare at their special siblings, what to do when they have concerns about siblings’ futures, and advice for young siblings still living with the daily challenges that having a special sibling presents.
The Sibatone was enhanced with singing, games, beautiful décor, delicious food catered by Meal Mart, oneg Shabbos generously donated by Pomegranate, and the most exceptional group of teens one could ever hope to meet. Special thanks to Rabbi and Rebbetzin Halberstam, who graciously hosted the meals in their shul.
The cherry on top was the motzaei Shabbos trip to Rebounderz, an indoor trampoline arena, where everyone had a blast! Rave reviews came from parents in the form of thank-you calls on Sunday: “Wow. That package was so beautiful!” “The schedule you planned sounded so special. . . . She really enjoyed it!” “She’s learning so much.” “We’re already looking forward to Sibatone 2015!”
Ohel’s Sibshop events are not just for teens. Ohel Bais Ezra runs monthly separate boys’ and girls’ groups for ages 6–11 as well, in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway. For more information, contact Chayale Greenwald at 718-686-3491 or firstname.lastname@example.org. v