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Exhilarating Exclusive Hamaspik Shabbaton for Kids Gives Parents Life-boosting Weekend of Relief, Rejuvenation

January 15, 2016

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette


Mothers, Fathers Enjoy Critical Shabbos Break While Children Cared for, Entertained at Raleigh Hotel

Hamaspik of Rockland County, a premier non-profit agency providing human services and supports to the frum community of greater New York since 1986, outdid itself yet again this past Shabbos Parshas Vayechi—by hosting its first Shabbaton for the precious little girls and boys who regularly attend its After-school Respite and At-home Respite programs.

The sleepaway Shabbaton was held at the upstate Raleigh Hotel, a popular community destination.

The Respite programs, as their names indicate, provide parents of children with special needs with much needed daily breaks, either at designated sites to which children are transported after school before coming home, or in their homes themselves.  Caring and professionally trained Hamaspik staff arrive each day to spend quality time with their charges, providing them with stimulating and therapeutic activities and games that work the mind, body, heart and soul alike.

For one Shabbos, though, Hamaspik would be providing its precious “Respite children” with a totally different kind of program.

And, by extension, it would be providing their parents with the one thing they need most after support for their children: Support for themselves.

A well-earned vacation

From the moment their beautiful children were dropped off at the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Suffern before noon on Friday, December 25, and all the way through the moment they scooped them up in their arms the early afternoon of Sunday, December 27, those parents were on Cloud Nine.

One devoted mother spoke for many when she later informed Hamaspik that the Shabbaton had been the first time her daughter had ever been away from the house for a single night, never mind two.

One can only imagine the relief experienced by such parents: A Shabbos on which they could focus on themselves.

Considering the constant nisayon that is raising and caring for a child with special needs, it is only understandable that some parents took the golden opportunity to put up their other precious children with relatives.  This allowed them to spend a weekend at home, or away from home, alone with no one but each other.

However, others used the 48-hour breathing space to spend precious time with their other children; not-infrequently, due to the involvement demanded by children with special needs, other members of a family are overlooked, or at least feel so.

Regardless, by the time the Shabbaton was over, these heroic parents were tired and worn-out mothers and fathers no more.

Getting started, Hamaspik style

By 11:45 a.m., the children had been dropped off by their parents, and two large buses were being loaded with luggage—and with several dozen bouncing kids and their staff, who kept a watchful eye on each at a general one-to-one ratio throughout the event.  (A few of the most involved children required two staff members each, while some of the highest-functioning attendees were assigned one staff member per pair.)

At around 12:00 p.m., with mothers and fathers having said their goodbyes and buses loaded, the entourage headed out to the highway.  Destination?  Upstate—and a Shabbos weekend filled with inspiration and far more than a little bit of fun.

About two hours later, a cheer went up as the buses pulled into the parking lot of the Raleigh Hotel.

Waiting for the kids was Hamaspik’s Mrs. Brenda Katina, the veteran Special Events Coordinator who had once again pulled off another agency spectacular.

Accompanying her was Hamaspik of Rockland County After-school Respite (ASR) Director Mrs. Raizy Landau. Mrs. Landau, a familiar face to many of the children excitedly riding the buses due to her year-round ASR involvement, had been instrumental in recruiting staff for the special weekend event.

Mrs. Katina and staff had set up the lobby of the hotel with a “greeting program” that was classic Hamaspik.  One table, behind which stood Mrs. Katina and her trademark beaming smile, was covered in custom-printed colorful hooded jackets, each boldly emblazoned with the distinct Hamaspik logo.  They also each received delightful welcome packages.

And if that wasn’t exciting enough, off to one side was a giant inflatable ball pit.  The kids lost no time literally diving right in.

But Special Events Coordinator Katina had outdone herself yet again (how does she manage every time?).

A live balloon artist stood by just inside the posh lobby, giving the beautiful children an exhilarating choice between the ball pit and the opportunity to stand by, eyes wide in fascination, as the “balloon man” twisted balloon after balloon into stick-figure people and a colorful variety of animals and objects.

Most of the kids, of course, chose both, and multiple times, which was fine, by the way—that’s what those amusements were there for!

After checking in, the Hamaspik guests made their way to their suites. Each room was equipped with four beds, two for staff members and two for Hamaspik’s precious guests.

After settling in and unpacking, the guests and their counselors made their way back to the Walnut Ballroom, where a “toameha” buffet was set out, giving guests and staff a taste of Shabbos in the hours before candlelighting. Immediately after and along with the pre-Shabbos buffet sampler was a hands-on art project set up on tables.

With that high-energy afternoon introduction behind them, the girls, boys and counselors returned to their rooms to get ready for the serene Shabbos.

Friday-night fun

A simchah-themed activity brought Shabbos in shortly after candle-lighting time, which was at 4:15 p.m., with the children now bathed and dressed in their Shabbos best.

Following that joy-filled and happy group activity, the entire guest body sat down to the Shabbos seudah at 5:45 p.m., with children enjoying the company of their peers and their caring staff, all while choosing from the wide array of dishes and foods available before them.

Kiddush, challah, salads, fish, soup, chicken… you name it, they had it, and all in choice-centered measures judiciously guided by discerning and ever-professional counselors.  (The event’s one-on-one staff, several dozen in all, had been carefully trained by Mrs. Katina herself in a late-night instructional session at Hamaspik of Rockland County headquarters the week before.)

The highlight of the meal—according to one staff member who reported back to Hamaspik the following week—was a heartfelt talk delivered to the children by Mrs. Katina.  Serving as a counselor at the event was worth all the effort and training “just to hear Brenda Katina speak,” the staff member said.

After the meal, another interactive, game-centered activity themed around colors was led by Mrs. Katina.  Needless to say, the kids were excitedly jumping for joy and some quite literally, too!

A new day

Shabbos morning opened relatively bright and early, with the children enjoying another catered buffet spread, this one for breakfast.

After breakfast, an unstructured but supervised morning of Shachris and singing, each at his or her own level, was held, along with a free play period.

The Shabbos lunch was held at 11:30 a.m., with the same level of personal choice and preference in the menu items available right there on the tables.

Throughout it all, a licensed paramedic provided a reassuring presence on the premises throughout the Shabbaton.  The medic, for his part, had, thankfully, nothing to do.  Hamaspik staff did need to use him once over Shabbos, though—for a child who needed a Band-Aid.

The early afternoon was marked by a special party-themed program led once again by Mrs. Katina.

After a lengthy period of afternoon rest, the boys, girls and their staff gathered in the dining room for Shalosh Seudos, which segued quickly into Havdalah at Motzoei Shabbos, which was around a quarter to six in the evening.

Shabbos may have been over.  But the Shabbaton was only really starting.

Maximum Melava Malka

What to do?  Jump up and down on a giant inflatable indoor Moon Bounce?  Make a custom and take-home teddy bear with your very own Build a Bear plush cuddly toy?  Or both?

Those were the choices Hamaspik’s young guests were faced with come the close of Shabbos, both of which kept them busy for a good hour or two.

After that, though, there was plenty more—with a full Melava Malka buffet meal…accompanied by a six-man band and live singer!

The professional musicians and vocalist, reminiscent of Hamaspik’s annual family holiday outings, had the beautiful boys taking the stage (and microphone) to give voice to their joy and to share their love of music (and everyone else, for that matter) with the entire program.

That Motzoei Shabbbos program left guests and staff on a high note as they retired to their rooms after a good hour or so of music and dancing.

Not going home the same

Sunday morning was marked by an 8:30 a.m. breakfast.

Once suitably satiated, the guests were diligently packed up by staff, who then led them to the ballroom for the Shabbaton’s grand finale: an entertaining live children’s show that had everyone laughing and cheering along, especially when audience members were called upon to participate.

The show then may have been over.  The suitcases were packed.  The rooms were empty.  But the hearts were full.  Filled and brimming with happiness, love, validation and acceptance—and eagerness to get back home and tell their beloved mothers and fathers what a great time they had with Hamaspik.

And you can be sure that for as wonderful and rejuvenating a time the children had, their noble parents had a weekend that was doubly so—all in keeping with Hamaspik’s mission of serving the entire community.  That mission marches on to this day, and marches on every day.