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Dozens of Kids from Hamaspik ‘Family’ Enjoy Agency’s 4th Children’s Respite Shabbaton. Popular Weekend Getaway Event Meets Underserved Needs of Community Families

June 28, 2017            

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

If you happened to have been a guest at Stamford, Connecticut’s Crowne Plaza Hotel this past June 23-25 weekend, you may have noticed quite a few kids scampering all over the place.


But you’d have also noticed a one-on-one counselor diligently shadowing each all over the place.


That’s because you’d have stumbled upon Hamaspik’s weekend respite event for the youthful beneficiaries of its Respite program.


From their Friday afternoon arrival to their Sunday afternoon departure, the boys and girls were free to choose from the colorful variety of available on-site activities (or non-activities, as the case may have been). 


The rainbow of choices brought the contemporary value of “person-centeredness” down to their level and granting them the liberty of making their own decisions.


And where said decisions were unreasonable, unsafe or otherwise not in their own best interests, the counselors—all trained in supporting kids with special needs—fell back on the technique of offering positive alternatives.


Choice, after all, was the underlying theme of the entire weekend—allowing participants to have fun, relax, recreate and otherwise self-direct all Shabbos long.


The event really began with departure on Friday, June 23, when two school buses and three vans, all equipped with wheelchair lifts, scooped up around several dozen pairs of children and one-on-one staff and whisked them off to the Crowne Plaza.


With grateful parents waving goodbye behind them, the kids gleefully looked forward to the fun weekend before them, with the trip punctuated with summer-camp-like songs all the way.


No sooner had the children gotten off the buses and vans a little about an hour later than they were greeted by the genuine smile of Hamaspik’s very own Mrs. Brenda Katina, who was happily waiting for them in the Crowne Plaza’s lobby.


From behind a table laden with welcome packages, Special Events Coordinator Katina made sure that each young attendee was made to feel like the special guest that he or she was.


Once guests were settled in their rooms with their assigned counselors, they enjoyed an afternoon of pre-Shabbos indoor games and activities of their choice, all arranged and led by Mrs. Katina.


As Shabbos was ushered in around 8:00 p.m., the children gathered in the dining room, washed and dressed in their Shabbos best.  A proper Shabbos meal was served—punctuated with lots of interactive singing games led by designated counselors.


More games and activities followed the meal, with most of the younger ones heading off to bed at their leisure at earlier hours and most of the older ones stayed on for late-night socializing with their peers—with counselors at their sides all along.


The long Shabbos day began early for some and later for others, with all taking breakfast whenever they got up.  (The buffet-style breakfast was available for several hours.)


The central Shabbos afternoon meal had all the guests congregate as one in the dining room—not just for lunch but for more camaraderie and exciting games presided over by Mrs. Katina.


For the rest of the afternoon, the children read, played, explored or simply napped, all under their counselors’ watchful eyes. 


On duty throughout was Mrs. Esty Schonfeld, Director of the Women’s Division of Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Day Hab program and a key event coordinator.  Mrs. Schonfeld supervised staff and children, ensuring that guests and counselor were properly paired at all times.


Most critically, Mrs. Schonfeld deftly juggled the numerous last-minute and real-time changes that came up, as always happens with any logistically-involved event with numerous “moving parts.”


Also on duty throughout was Hamaspik Medicaid Service Coordinator (MSC) Mrs. Goldy Holczler, whose day job includes working with many of the Respite program’s youthful participants and their parents.


Mrs. Holczler’s roving presence gave the young guests yet another familiar face, helping them feel even more comfortable for the duration of the weekend—especially since the Shabbaton’s on-duty and equally-roving EMT was Mr. Abe Holczler. The husband-and-wife team provided that necessary extra measure of safety and security, medical and otherwise.  (Fortunately, no adverse events transpired.)


A weekend highlight was the post-Shabbos live music sing-and-dance-along.


With the ballroom lights darkened and exciting lighting set up, a one-man-band keyboardist and accompanying professional vocalist shifted the atmosphere into high gear.


With his popular tunes pouring from a PA system, children and staff were soon bouncing to the beat—and, all wearing Kangoo spring-loaded exercise shoes, quite literally, too.


Making the musical bash even bouncier were the tiny trampolines set out for the Shabbaton’s tiniest guests.  Those children, particularly those with autism, especially enjoyed the repetitive sensory stimulation provided by the combination of light, sound and movement.


All went to bed tired but thoroughly happy.


Following Sunday-morning breakfast and more games and activities, guests and staff boarded their buses and vans and returned to Monsey, where loving parents waited with open arms.


For those fathers and mothers, the weekend event hadn’t just been a much-anticipated getaway for their kids but a desperately-needed weekend break for them, too—a veritable vacation from the duties of constant special-needs care and supervision.


“Thank you so, so much!” said one grateful mother in a voice mail left after the weekend with Hamaspik of Rockland County Director of Day Services Shlomo Kornbluh.


“It really meant a lot to us as a family!”


And that, of course, is just one of the many reasons Hamaspik is here.