Chaya Gittel Lachman was 16 when she moved into Seeach Sod’s group home last year. Although her and her brother, Refoel (14), have been enrolled in Seeach Sod schools for 11 years, her parents, Sue and Frank Lachman, were very hesitant and nervous about the transition. “It took me nearly a year to realize that we were holding her back,” Lachman said, “Because I felt like I was giving her away.”
Seeach Sod is Israel’s leading center for special education, and has programs for people with special needs from infancy through adulthood, including 40 group homes for 250 men and women.
It’s natural for parents to coddle and protect their special needs children. However, group homes are giving parents the opportunity to see a new side of their children. The Lachman’s fears began to dissipate when they saw immediate changes in Chaya Gittel. “Within a few weeks we saw a huge difference,” Lachman said. “The first thing we noticed was she lost weight. She looked so happy, tidy and neat.”
Division manager of the men’s homes, Chaim Hershman, is constantly blown away by the progress he sees after the boys move into the group homes. “The second that the boys come to the house, it’s better for them because they are surrounded by people similar to them,” Hershman said. “Each resident wants to see that he has worth and the homes give them the independence they need.”
To ensure the success of each resident, Seeach Sod staff is comprised of social workers, psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. Hershman reflected on one resident who moved into Seeach Sod last year who didn’t know how to do anything himself. “Before he came to Seeach Sod he stayed at home, couldn’t travel or do anything himself,” Hershman said. “Nine months after moving to Seeach Sod he can travel by himself, gets himself ready in the morning, opened a bank account, and found work.”
Not just a place to live, the residents quickly feel bond with their housemates and the staff. “They are really a close knit group,” Lachman said, “They are a family.” When one of the madrichim got married, he invited all the boys from his home to the wedding. “You could see the excitement on their faces,” Hershman described. “They were dancing and happy as if it was their own brother.”
Although Refoel Lachman doesn’t live in the group homes he goes to school at Seeach Sod for a full day. “He loves going to school,” Lachman said, “But we decided to give him a day off and take him fruit picking with his nephews. We thought he would like it but he went berserk because he just wanted to be in school.”
Seeach Sod takes their role as caretakers and family very seriously. “We tell the parents to come and give their children love, but we will worry about everything else,” Hershman said.” We will take care of their health, food, doctor visits and more, but the warmth and love of a parent, only a parent can give. We strongly encourage parents to come and be a crucial part of their lives," Hershman continued.
However, when parents can’t fill that role, Seeach Sod steps in as well. Two years ago two boys, who had lost their mother, moved in to a group home. Their father was sick and couldn’t take care of them and six months later he also passed away. While speaking to the social worker, Hershman realized the crucial role Seeach Sod had in their lives. “We took them to funeral and saw that we were the only family they had. We did shiva and kaddish at the group home and I realized how meaningful and important we were for them.”
The kids are not the only ones who benefit from these amazing services. It’s a win-win as the families and staff also benefit enormously from the program. “The benefit on each person who is in our home also influences everyone else in their entire extended family,” Hershman said. “The second that they are okay, it’s good for everyone else also.” Even on a practical level, parents are more freed up to have more flexibility in their lives. “We don’t have as many time constraints and have much more freedom,” Lachman explained. “Especially if we need to travel, we don’t have to worry because we know our kids are well looked after.”
All parents want to provide their children with whatever they need to grow to their potential and Seeach Sod is enabling that for thousands of children in Israel.
“He’s found his place,” Lachman said. “It’s given him a sense of self. He knows who he is, and that is one of the most precious things you can give to a child with special needs.”