August 29, 2011

A Community of Support: All in the Family

Families of children with special needs have little support or community: the majority of available services focus on the child. There’s little help for other family members who face social isolation and constant deferral of their own needs. JDC's All in the Family Program strengthens families by offering guidance, community and leadership skills.

Lena, an Arab-Israeli woman from Acco, is a mother to five children. Her eldest child, 18-year old Raya, is mentally retarded, with ongoing medical needs that require frequent hospitalizations. Until recently, Raya was a source of shame to her family. Lena describes the difficulty she had in holding her head high in Arab society. Moreover, she did not know how to access information regarding social benefits and services that could help Raya. Distressed by the lack of support from her husband in helping with child care, Lena was on the verge of divorce.

"All in the Family" turned Lena's family around. Lena describes the support and empowerment that she’s received just in the last half year as "a warm home that took us in." In a mothers’ group, she learns from the experience and tips shared by other Arab and Jewish mothers coping with special needs children. It helps her to be more accepting and supportive of Raya.

Lena sees that her other children are following her example, improving the entire family dynamic. For example, one of Raya's sisters stood up in front of her class and spoke about Raya, her disabilities and the importance of accepting her and her special needs. Another younger sister comes with Lena and Raya to attend weekly "family playroom" activities, a positive shared experience that has enhanced the relationship between the sisters. "Family fun days" have fostered enjoyable experiences for the entire family.

All in the Family is designed to be a "home" for families of physically, developmentally, and mentally challenged children and youth (from birth to 21), offering them knowledge, positive experiences and a supportive peer community. The program serves 150 Jewish and Arab-Israeli families in and around the city of Akko, with plans to expand to three additional locations.

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