For more than 150 children with special needs at the Shalva Children's Center in Jerusalem, a donation of $10,000 and thousands of dollars more worth of equipment will help fill a loophole in services not paid for by local health funds.
According to social worker Goldie Marans, who coordinates research and training at Shalva, the association for mentally and physically challenged children in Israel, the donation from the US-based Kol Moshe Foundation will cover the costs for intensive speech and communication therapy for many Down Syndrome children who do not receive financial aid in this area until they turn two years of age. Eighty percent of the children treated at Shalva have Down Syndrome.
"For many children with Down Syndrome the work of the speech therapist begins at birth," Marans told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "Many of these children have weak facial muscles and it is the speech therapists' job to strengthen those muscles, improving their outward appearance, enabling them to eat better and increasing their chances of speech."
The Kol Moshe Foundation is the brainchild of Brooklyn-based Speech and Language Pathologist Barbara Offenbacher, who arrived in Israel earlier this month with a check for the foundation, a transport of specialized equipment that is not available here and armed with a wealth of professional experience, which she imparted to Shalva staff during a special training session.
"The essence of being human is linked to the desire to communicate," Offenbacher told the post. "From our youngest days to someone who has grown older and lost the ability to speak, not being able to communicate takes away so much of who a person is."
"I have a passion for this kind of therapy and personally have built a successful career out of it," she continued. "I wanted to give something back, so I created the Kol Moshe Foundation in my parents' name."
The foundation focuses on raising funds for speech therapy-related projects both here and in the US, explained Offenbacher, adding that the decision to make Shalva this year's project came following an organized trip to the center last January. On her return to her native community of Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, Offenbacher rallied her associates to raise money for Shalva's "Mummy and Me' program, which offers guidance to mothers of infants with special needs from newborns through to three years old.
Despite competing with many other organizations raising funds for Israel and the increased financial burdens caused by this past summer's war, Offenbacher still managed to find supporters for her endeavor.
"People were still willing to support me in my goal, even though they continued to give to other causes," said Offenbacher, who wrote a moving personal account of why Shalva needed the support. Her fundraising efforts are always linked to National Better Hearing and Speech month in the US, which takes place in May, she said.
"The donation will help maintain the costs of speech therapy for infants on our 'Mommy and Me' program," commented Shalva director and founder Kalman Samuels.
"Barbara brought with her some wonderful equipment that we desperately need for working with these children."
Meanwhile, Samuels and his family are now the focus of a new documentary that had its debut Wednesday night at the Haifa Film Festival. Directed by Avi Henry, "About Yossi" tells the story of Samuel's oldest child Yossi, who became blind, deaf and hyperactive following a routine vaccine.
"The film shows a blind and deaf young adult looking for love and marriage," said Samuels, prior to the screening. "He is a Forrest Gump character, who is always struggling and never quite makes it."