Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement begins this Sunday at sundown with the chanting of the Kol Nidre prayer. The most holy day in our calendar, it is a 24-hour period of reflection, fasting, repentance, and prayer. It is a time when many of us review the past and commit to do better, to do more for others.
Yesterday, at Federation’s Food for Thought weekly luncheon we had a fairly modest number of people attending. I don’t know if it was a coincidence (some weeks it is a lot of folks, other times, just the “regulars,”) the time of year (have people travelled to be with family for the holiday?), or the speaker subject advertised as “Melissa Miles, Special Needs Author” that didn’t pique interest.
I usually lend a hand at Food for Thought in serving our guests and yesterday was no exception. With the assistance of Michelle Allan, Chef-for-the- Day, Sarah Docar, and volunteers, Ken Miller and Gale Hirsh, it seemed like the food was served in record time. It took everything I had to prepare the plates as “our servers” were a flurry of activity. In less than five minutes in was all done and I prepared my own plate and sat down at one of the tables.
At that table was our speaker, Melissa Miles and her husband. I introduced myself and then set out to learn her story.
She shared her background as a nurse in Neonatal and Pediatric Care, as a school nurse, and as an Elementary Educator in Effingham County. It was in these experiences that she met Jeremiah, a child who had a tracheostomy. Melissa developed the idea that she wanted children with special needs to be seen in a book and thus began her idea of making Jeremiah a super hero: Jeremiah Justice. In her book, Jeremiah uses his Tracheostomy tube as a Super Tornado Blaster to save the town from a supervillain, Mr. Menace.
Needless to say, writing the story, getting an illustrator, finding the funding, printing, and establishing a nonprofit (Superhero Success Foundation) was quite a challenge—but she did it, and the book was published. It has been distributed to area schools and libraries, military children, and to children throughout the country.
She went on to tell me about an upcoming book she is working on featuring a child who was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (commonly known as Brittle Bone Disease). She had met this child at six weeks of age; having been born with multiple fractures, right out of the womb. She shared how very challenging it was to even diaper the baby without causing a fracture (they diapered her with pillows under the body and each limb).
She went on to tell me how taxing it was for this family as they tried to find a childcare/preschool program. From Child Care to Child Care, from Preschool to Preschool, they trudged to find a place for the little girl only to come up empty.
NOONE would take the liability,
NOONE would extend themselves to meet the need,
NOONE was willing to accommodate the special needs of the child.
NOONE, until they came to JEA Preschool.
I remember that day when Jodi Sadler came by my office to share the story and how she wanted to find a safe place for the child who had been turned away from program after program.
“After all, isn’t this the place where all children should be welcomed and embraced?” queried, Jodi. “We’ll work with the family and make it happen. That’s another reason why the JEA is special.”
That child did enroll in the Preschool and has been a part of JEA family (Early Childhood, Camp, Afterschool, and Kids Night Out) for the past nine years. She will be featured in Melissa’s next book as superhero, Bella Grace. We've been a part of this SuperHero's life since she was one years old.
We read that all humans are created in God’s image, B’tselem Elohim, and should be treated as such.
DJ Horton, Jackie Laban, and their dedicated staff are committed to include all children to create fully inclusive programs, to the best of our capabilities;
Jodi Sadler, Heather Lieberfarb and their dedicated teachers work with Babies Can’t Wait, school interventionists, Behavioral, Occupational, and Speech Therapists to include everyone they can in their programs;
They, like Bella Grace, are all superheros.
I reflect on their commitment to the Alliance, to the community, to our families on this Yom Kippur.
I reflect on what a difference they have made and continue to make in their lives of so many on this Yom Kippur.
May we all reflect and to commit to being SuperHeros to someone else in the coming year.
L’Shana Tovah v G’mar Chatimah Tovah.