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Area Synagogues Join Together to Create a Jewish Youth Group for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 • 5:27pm

Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains, Temple Sholom of Scotch Plains and Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim of Cranford have joined together to create a new Jewish youth group, Kids Connect, for children with autism spectrum disorders.  The first program is Sunday, February 23 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. at Congregation Beth Israel. The topic is family, friends, community, and Judaism.  Kids Connect activities are open to the entire community.  Members do not need to be affiliated with a sponsoring synagogue.

“We know that a youth group can be such an important part of teen Jewish life  -- one that we want all of our children to be able to enjoy,” said Michelle Shapiro Abraham of Temple Sholom.

Kids Connect was made possible by support from MetroWest ABLE (Access, Belonging and Life Enrichment for People and Families with Special Needs.)  MetroWest ABLE is a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and works to advocate for and support individuals and their families with special needs.  

Kids Connect is designed for students in grades five through ten  (10-15 years old) who are on the autism spectrum and who would otherwise be unable to participate in a typical youth group experience.  With meetings every four to six weeks, Kids Connect includes holiday celebrations, trips, social action projects and additional youth group activities.  Run by Kids Connect Coordinator Dana Brenner, all programs include both peer teen support and a licensed special needs educator on site.  

“Kids Connect brings together the teen leadership of three synagogues from different towns and different denominations,” said Elly Bauman, Education Director of Congregation Beth Israel. 

Students from the sponsoring congregations in grades eight through twelve are trained as “buddies” who help plan the events, spend time with the youth group members and support the programming. 

“The pairing of a buddy with a Kids Connnect member adds another dynamic to the program, and creates a strong and supportive Jewish social community,” said Dana Brenner, Kids Connect Coordinator.  “It is great to see the excitement the buddies have for working with the youth group!”

Parents are invited to contact Dana Brenner at kidsconnectyouthgroup@gmail.com to discuss their child’s participation in the program or to visit the website at www.kidsconnectyouthgroup.weebly.com

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