The Clubhouse: Inclusion for the Los Angeles Jewish Community
While all families with children were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, families with children with special needs felt the impact the most. Taking care of their children remained just as challenging, but many of these children, who are enrolled in public school, are now home all the time, leaving no breaks for the parents.
Two women in our community saw the struggles these families faced, and they decided to do something about it – not in the future, when the world returns back to normal, but now, under these crazy circumstances. Sori Eisen and Chaya Ullmann founded The Clubhouse, providing respite and other services to families with children with special needs.
On Sunday, November 22, The Clubhouse held a well-attended event, hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Shaya Atlas in their backyard, to raise awareness of these families’ needs and of The Clubhouse’s important work.
The keynote speaker, Rabbi Avi Stewart, spoke about his own experience with raising a daughter with special needs. “The challenge of being a parent of a special needs child is tremendous,” he said. While the thought that this child has a lofty neshama may be comforting to some, it doesn’t make it any easier. Some gedolim stood up for children with special needs. Rabbi Stewart quoted Rav Schwab as saying, “I don’t know about the kids, but I stand up for their parents.” He also quoted their doctor, who said that a child with special needs is “like having eight kids at one time.” Most people who don’t have children with special needs are not aware of these challenges and cannot relate.
What helps these families alleviate pressure and stress? The care and support from the community. Rabbi Stewart expressed appreciation to Mrs. Ullmann and Mrs. Eisen for seeing this need for support and for offering it wholeheartedly, making these families feel that they are not on their own but part of one big family.
After the keynote address, the attendees watched a moving video about The Clubhouse and saw the bright smiles of the children with special needs who enjoy everything it has to offer. The Clubhouse is especially set up with play and gymnastics equipment. The children participate in various activities – dancing, exercising, arts and crafts.
The Clubhouse currently serves 20 children with special needs and is open four times a week – on Sunday afternoons and on weekday evenings – to give parents the opportunity to take a break and to focus on their other children. In December, The Clubhouse plans to open five times a week. Each child is assigned a dedicated volunteer – a Junior High or high school student especially trained to work with these children. Currently, there are about 50 volunteers, and more are planning to join the ranks. Social workers and ABA therapists are also on site during open hours. Amazingly, this respite service is completely free of charge to the families.
In addition to the respite program, The Clubhouse currently offers an inclusive Mommy and Me program, where typical and atypical children can learn to interact with each other. The Clubhouse also offers a Yoga class for mothers of children with special need, where they can connect and provide support for each other.
Mrs. Ullmann says that The Clubhouse is hoping to expand its services in the future, as there is a clear need in our community. “Our goal is that the community learns and absorbs the lessons of inclusion,” she says.