When I started my practical work at the Baka'a Community Center in Jerusalem a few months ago (as part of my BA in Social Work at Hebrew U), I started by observing and diagnosing challenges facing different social groups in the neighborhood.

At first I met with a group of adults with different disabilities. I found that people with special needs find difficulty in living independently, often due to reasons not necessarily related to their disabilities. Rather, the difficulty stems from overprotection within their close circles or a general lack of knowledge about their disabilities and their impacts. I also met with parents of youth with special needs and learned about another challenge. Parents would repeatedly express their concern about how to celebrate their son or daughter’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah – the traditional Jewish Rite of Passage ceremony. Some even doubted whether to celebrate it at all.

One of the parents who shared her thoughts with me was Galia Mizrachi. Galia asked me to try and confront the matter by putting together a program geared toward both parents and youth at the Bar/Bat Mitzvah age. After some thought, I realized that such program could also affect aspects of personal independence later on, and All Grown Up was born. To ensure that the best possible program was created, I reached out to an organization that shared a similar vision, and that organization was SHAI Project.

All Grown Up brings together 20 sixth graders from local elementary schools, hand-picked for their strong social skills, to participate alongside children with special needs. The group consists of boys and girls from different religious backgrounds, from both regular and special education classes, which is meant to foster a rich conversation for both youth and parents alike. We aim to strengthen the participant’s sense of maturity and independence and to expose them to individuals that they usually would not meet.

We gathered Community Center professionals with SHAI Project experts and planned an inspiring pilot program. We have held five sessions for the youth with their school staff and one session for the parents. The feedback has been amazing and holds promise. This week we had our last session for the youth and a festive ceremony with parents, community leaders, City Council Members and other respected guests.

I must share one last insight. I used to think of independence as something that was either given to you or it wasn’t. I now understand that there is so much more to independence. Independence is something that grows. It grows inside each person and it’s affected by each individual's surroundings: his or her family, close friends, classmates, school staff, and more. We can all help to raise someone’s sense of independence; we just have to realize the opportunities. I’m excited for the opportunity to help our beautiful group of All Grown Up participants add a piece of independence to their personal lives and to watch them enrich each other’s lives in the process.

We hope to see All Grown Up expand into a year-long program within the next year so that we can share it with other community centers around the country.

Written by Maayan Omer, Co-Founder of All Grown Up program

© 2016 Shai Project

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