Nysha Recent News

Rockland, Rejoice! First-ever Enhanced Workforce Prep Program for Young Women Opens

October 29, 2015

 By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

High-end Studies, Hands-on Courses Geared for Bottom-line Life Quality Improvements

History is being made for Rockland County residents and their family members —with the opening of the first-ever long-term job-training and life-prep program for high-functioning young women with developmental disabilities.

The first class is already underway—taking services for this niche demographic to a whole new (and markedly fun!) level.

The program represents a sea change in the world of human-services social supports: Providing the highest-functioning individuals with a program that parallels the seminaries that educate typical young women.  It accommodates a growing number of students with easily-internalized classes on common subjects, instruction in daily life skills, training in housekeeping, and even how to hold down a basic secure job—and all against an upbeat, cheery background of motivational fun.

Students and parents alike report satisfaction with the newly-opened program, a brand-new, independent project that blazes a new trail in the world of services and supports.

In terms of education, it’s is as real as it gets.

Like typical young women attending schools of higher learning and academics post-high school, the new program has its students getting intensive but practicable sessions in cooking, housekeeping, personal health and hygiene, and employment preparation.

In that area alone, special emphasis is made on cultivating productivity habits, with an eye towards a future marked by gainful employment and the concurrent and critical boost in self-esteem.

After all, that’s the overarching mission of the program: To build up each student to her maximum potential.

Cooking, baking, sewing and even flower arranging are all among the skills taught so as to elevate students’ level of function—as well as their marketability for the workforce.

But not to ignore the students’ spiritual needs, the program also boasts a fully daily schedule of classes on Jewish philosophy, law and history.

The program also serves healthy breakfasts and lunches, and incorporates a robust daily exercise regimen.

In short, according to program director Mrs. Esty Schonfeld, “Everything we do with the ladies and girls is for a purpose, and for a personal goal of accomplishing all that one could.”

With the Chanukah month approaching, students are shining with their full daily schedule—not only lighting themselves up but brightening all those around them, both inside and outside the program.  For example, students have been recently volunteering to bring some of their own homemade cooking to homebound new young mothers and hospital patients alike.

As it turns out, students have actually been visiting the aging residents of nursing homes—chatting and socializing with them, singing for (and with) them, or otherwise boosting their morale in a way that can’t quite be described.

The daily program begins with the morning Shachris prayer service, with each student enjoying her own real prayer book and designated seat.

Once a day, students head out with staff for their regular jobs, ranging from playgroup assistants to pharmacy clerks—earning real money that they can then actually spend—a validating and real-world experience whose value is positively beyond words.

But that’s hardly all.

Several times a week, the students enjoy professional classes in basic computing and graphics with the long-term goal of securing related employment.  Classes also include therapeutic arts and crafts and cooking.

A birds-eye glance at the program reveals a schedule brimming with goals and stimulation for each individual student and her personal profile.  From the aforementioned jobs and training to exercise and personal hygiene, and from personal finance to handwriting and math, the program presses ahead on every possible personal front.

And no student wants to miss the stimulating and content-filled classes taught by staff, ranging from practical halachah (Jewish law) to Torah study and interpersonal ethics—and even a weekly test each Friday.

The joy of students and staff alike is only matched by ongoing results—rewarding, and with earned interest, every bit of invested effort and sweat.

That positive, upbeat atmosphere is only accentuated by the initiative’s regular dance lessons.  And let’s not forget the music lessons, at which each student studies a different instrument and eventually learns to play along with other students in a veritable orchestra of self-confidence and happiness.

A sumptuous and nutritious lunch, out of a kitchen and food program under the watchful vigilance of Kiryas Joel’s kosher supervision group, is served every midday, with the following hours also filled with practical goals.

Junk food is frowned upon at the program.  Even the fresh-baked goods, including chocolate truffles and sweet compotes, produced onsite by the students in the course of their training, are not indulged in too frequently.  Those goods are, however, whipped up with the intent of presenting them to various volunteer-driven organizations that regularly visit the sick or lonely.

Further balancing and optimizing students’ health and nutrition is the program’s regular daily health regimen led by professional instructors.  That regimen comprises not just physical workouts in a respectable gym on the premises but also massage therapy, mindfulness, Yoga and even life coaching.

What about social skills?

“Ah,” knowingly smiles Director Schonfeld, “That’s our best-kept secret!”

In that regard, the program boasts a dedicated weekly group therapy session of the highest caliber.  Guided by a professional social worker, the students gain a world of invaluable social skills and insights—and learn how to bond and socialize with each other, their typical peers and the world at large.  They even have pen pals!

What does that look like?

Under the leadership of Mrs. Schonfeld, each student has her own personal pen pal to whom she regularly writes (with assistance from staff)—and from whom she regularly gets mail.

“It means the world to them,” says Mrs. Schonfeld.  “They feel like a million dollars!”  It also makes the program even more fun than it already is—a critical component of the positive atmosphere.

With such a busy and productive day, there isn’t too much time for making runs on the Post Office.  But at the program, letters are first painstakingly inserted into elegant envelopes—and then, somewhere in the middle of the week, between job training, lectures, volunteering and more, students are bused over to their nearest real U.S. Post Office.

There, surrounded by post office boxes (where they also collect their pen-pal mail), service counters, and impressed customers and employees alike, the students see their letters off.

How about Friday’s proceedings?  A look at the schedule indicates that Friday at the program might just be best dubbed "Magic Day.”

That’s because the program manages to cram a good six hours’ or more’s worth of programming into three or four hours of the short Friday school day (with the early-arriving Shabbos, schools and businesses in the Orthodox Jewish community close early on winter Fridays).

Friday at the program thus looks like morning services, breakfast, exercise in the gym, activities, Story Time, games and puzzles, reviewing the week’s studies, Snack Time, and—somewhere between all of that—baking and decorating a cake or dicing up a fresh fruit salad for Shabbos.

Only one question remains unanswered: When do students have a free second?

It’s hard to answer.  But the fact remains that, every day before they go home, students also manage to get in a few verses of Tehilim (Psalms)—whispering heartfelt prayers for themselves, family and friends and, indeed, the entire world.

In the meantime, plans for the program for high-functioning students proceed apace—with the highest of hopes for the future.