Children with severe developmental disabilities should not be on the periphery of society, but in the center – hugged instead of shunned.
That is the message that one parent and Jerusalem Marathon employee hopes will hit home on March 13. On that morning, as part of the Jerusalem Marathon, a group of 18 police officers and 15 residents of ADI Jerusalem will walk 800 meters – together. The residents are all severely disabled.
“The public needs to hug adults and children like this and do everything it can to get them involved,” said Alon Hassid, whose son Or was born with brain damage that cripples his ability to walk, talk or even eat on his own.
This is the second year that the residents will participate in the walk. Last year, Hassid helped arrange for seven youth to take part, accompanied by several ADI therapists. This year, more than double that number will participate and the police officers will help ensure their success.
“My sister has been an ADI resident for more than a decade,” said ADI Parnasa, a police officer who rallied the cops to volunteer this year. “We knew we wanted to do something [for ADI], but giving the kids a Hanukka or Purim party fell flat. For us, helping these kids to walk in the marathon is much more meaningful.”
Since Rosh Hashana, the officers have been visiting ADI each Sunday for two hours. The ADI staff started by training the police simply to talk with, understand, maneuver and support the kids.
Then, they started walking.
Volunteer Zaloo ADIsu described her first few sessions, saying she and fellow officers had been shocked by the severe disabilities of some residents.
“It was hard to go there because it was so painful to see children who are 5 or 6 years old unable to walk. It makes you uneasy,” ADIsu said. “But after a while, you realize there is nothing you can do, that God decides, and then you start to accept them and realize you just have to help. Now I am happy to be there and glad to help.”
Paired with resident Efrat, ADIsu said her pupil has made tremendous progress from the first days when she was unable even to take a step and often cried.
“Now she is going five minutes straight, sometimes even without her walking machine. Every week, I see her progress more,” said ADIsu, who explained that Efrat would use a specialized walker to complete the 800-meter walk.
ADIsu said she would stand behind her to provide her with confidence and support.
When ADIsu arrives, she brings a keychain with a running shoe to Efrat. Though the child cannot speak, she touches the keychain and smiles. Then she knows it is time to work out. ADIsu said she has developed a special closeness with Efrat and looks forward to going to ADI every week.
She also feels that police officers taking part in such a public volunteer activity is important for their image.
“People assume that you will only encounter police officers when you do something not good.
When I walk in the race with my uniform, people will see that it is not just, ‘Nu, nu, nu!’ when you commit a crime, but that we are real people and that we are here for the people,” said ADIsu.
Rivka Keesing, director of academia and research for ADI, said that the students get very excited and feel proud to see policemen in their uniforms. Sometimes, the officers come in on their days off, but they usually change into their uniforms because it makes the children so happy.
The physical activity, explained Tziki Raz, a member of the ADI staff, is very important for the youth, who are bound to wheelchairs and other devices most of the day. But volunteering also helps the officers.
“The officers tell us that at first they did not know how they could give up two hours a week to volunteer at ADI. But now the officers see that doing this… gives them so much strength that they work faster and get even more done when they return from ADI to work,” said Keesing. “It motivates them.”
The logistics of such an event are not without complications, said Dov Hirth, director of marketing and development for ADI. He said there would be several ADI staff on hand, as well as ambulances and rest stations to ensure that the children make it through. But he believes it will all be worth it.
“ADI’s goal is to give every severely disabled person in Israel the opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Hirth. “That’s what we do for the individuals. From the point of view of society as a whole, ADI is working to change the way people view those with disabilities.
And we work very hard to make sure that the world as a whole sees that those who have disabilities, who live with difficult circumstances, should not be shunned or, G-d forbid, forgotten about.”
“Although it is not the whole marathon, those 800 meters are very symbolic,” said Hassid. “That race says to the community, ‘Don’t forget these kinds of kids. They are part of the community, too, and that is very important.”
Added Parnasa: “It really puts life in perspective. Sometimes we think we had a bad day, or that we are so busy or stressed. But when you go to ADI you see that all of your life needs to be put into perspective, that all of life is precious.”
By MAAYAN JAFFE / The Jerusalem Post / 02/28/2015, United with Israel / 03/05/2015, The Jewish Week / 03/03/2015