With its recreational programming and myriad of supportive services, a spacious house here has become the new home for five young men with autism. The new housemates, ranging from 22 to 30 years old, moved into their six-bedroom home after Rosh Hashanah. The residence is designed so that the men can create a new supportive group that will allow them to age in place together.
In its warm and nurturing environment, an array of services addresses each resident’s medical, psychological, intellectual, and emotional needs, facilitating their ability to reach their potential and maintain, if not exceed, their personal level of achievement.
“Their parents taught them how to walk and we’re teaching them to fly and be independent,” said Rachel Lewitter, OHEL Bais Ezra’s director of residences.
Professionally staffed 24 hours a day, the residence is an initiative of Ohel Bais Ezra, a division of Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. The multifaceted social service agency provides a range of services and programs including residential and day programs for adults with developmental and psychiatric disabilities, mental health counseling, case management for seniors, foster care, and Camp Kaylie, an inclusion sleepaway camp for children of all abilities.
Beyond providing supportive services and programs for the young men, including recreational trips and activities, the residence serves to raise awareness in the community about individuals with special needs. The house’s location is in walking distance to stores and a synagogue to give the local community and the housemates opportunities to interact with one another and ease the men’s integration into the neighborhood.
In anticipation of the men’s arrival, neighbors have already begun extending invitations for Shabbat meals al fresco and, when COVID-19 ends, in their homes. For their part, the five men will mark their entry into their new locale by bringing cookies and cakes to their neighbors.
The residence is imbued with a Jewish sensibility, including a new kosher kitchen. Earlier this month Donny and Tamar Miller joined with their extended family members and placed mezuzot throughout the home. They dedicated the mezuzot to Marc Katz, their brother in law, and Ohel’s beloved chief revenue operating officer who passed away this past March.
The house represents Ohel Bais Ezra’s second group home in Lawrence and the fifth in its Nassau County portfolio. The others are located in Hewlett, Arlington (Cedarhurst), and Gateway in Far Rockaway. In addition to the residences, Ohel Bais Ezra serves more than 800 families in the Five Towns community with a wide range of services.
Ohel Bais Ezra has created a family-centered program that welcomes and respects family members as the young men’s circle of support, so the new housemates’ parents have met and communicated frequently with Ohel’s professionals and with each other. As a result, the men’s parents have bonded together, organically forming their own close-knit, mutually supportive group.
“We all have the same interests, and we not only care about our own children but each other’s children,” said Gary Katz (no relation to Marc Katz), the father of resident Dylan, 22. “And however hard it is to let go, Ohel gives us peace of mind that this is the right thing for Dylan. It doesn’t just do things properly but with a heart and soul.”
Added his wife and Dylan’s mother, Shelley Katz: “It’s the start of a New Year and the start of a new life.”
For more than 50 years, Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services has provided a safe haven for those suffering in our community. Starting as a foster care provider for Jewish families in the New York metropolitan area, today Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals from all communities through a broad range of programs including mental health services, housing, eldercare, respite for parents with a child with disabilities, outpatient counseling for everyday people with everyday problems, and trauma resources for communities in New York and across the nation. For more information about Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, including Ohel Bais Ezra, or to make a donation, please visit OhelFamily.org.