PURIM Unmasked

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By: Frieda Schweky

Hesed is something that flows through our community much like oxygen flows through every living object. It is something which is necessary and constant, and it goes hand and hand with who we choose to be as a people. We have a wide range of individuals in our community, those who can give, and those who are in need of support, those who are ill or elderly, and those who can carve time out of their day to make avisit and bring someone a smile. That being said, it is still a very powerful thing when a child of just 12 years of age decides to give back to community youth who are less fortunate than she is, in honor of her birthday.

The idea was heartwarming, exciting, and truly incredible. Caroline Palacci, a girl about to become Bat Mitzvah, decided to shift the attention on her special day from herself to those she felt could use it more.

The Special Children’s Center

The Special Children’s Center, or ‘The Center,” as they call it, is an invaluable community resource, which is focused on a
multi-faceted service program for children with complex developmental disabilities. With branches in Lakewood and Brooklyn, their main focus is on after-school programs, as well as programs held on Sundays and any other times students are off from school. The children really look forward to going to The Center. It’s their favorite part of the week. The Center happily serves over 450 families with special needs children. The aid to the families is immeasurable. The children always enjoy all the outings, and end up spending a lot of time with staff and other community members who love to volunteer.

In their caring home away from home,special needs children thrive upon individually focused and therapeutically guided attention. The teachers, trained aides, and volunteers at The Center use creative resources to stimulate optimum individual growth and achievement to help every child and adult maximize theirindependence, so that they can lead fuller and more productive lives within the family and the community.

The Special Children's Center's approach is to never say “no.” The entire operation of staff and volunteers is “heart-based,” predicated on caring about families and loving the children. There is nothing bureaucratic about The Special Children's Center. As such, services are never limited to existing specific programs. Whatever the need, whatever the situation, The Center is committed to doing whateverit takes to help.

Caroline Chooses a Carnival for Others

Putting a smile on the faces of young special individuals is such an important hesed, and it’s also very rewarding. Caroline, with the guidance of her parents, Sarina and Albert, at the young age of
12 years old, chose to forgo a typical party, and instead host a carnival for the kids of The Special Children’s Center.

Caroline invited all her classmates from Ramaz elementary school to join her in this hesed by being volunteers at the carnival booths. She asked them to come an hour earlier than the time The Center kids were scheduled to arrive. During this hour, Caroline read her bat mitzvah speech to her friends and close family. She explained how to go about interacting with the special children and why this mitzvah was so gratifying to her.

“When interacting with the special children, know that they should be treated with love and care,” said twelve-year-old Caroline Palacci in her Bat Mitzvah speech to her peers. “Don’t be rough with the children, rather have fun with them, they love to dance and have a good time! There is no reason to feel awkward around the children, and I’m sure you will soon learn to love them just like I did,” continued Caroline, sounding wise beyond her years.

A Program Dedicated to Fun

When the children from The Center arrived at the event, the MCs made an announcement, and the children were welcomed in with music and applause. Once settled in, the children began visiting booth after booth, playing games, winning prizes, and eating snacks. Smiles, laughter, and fun were all around.

Caroline and her friends enjoyed teaching the special children how to play certain games, cheering them on, and giving out prizes. There was a cotton candy booth and an ices cart where all the guests could grab something sweet while enjoying the fun. In the back of the room there was a photo booth where guests and volunteers alike could take a picture with a friend and then have it made into a pin, a magnet, or a keychain. Some of the other booths included a sand art station, a wax hand booth, and a build a bear table. Suffice it to say, everyone took home great souvenirs from the day.

The surprises kept coming; a clown on stilts joined the fun and surprised everyone! All the guests and volunteers enjoyed a delicious dairy lunch along with all the sweet treats. Next up was dancing. Caroline's friends, side by side with the special children, created a tunnel by holding two hands in the air with a partner across from them. All together they created a tunnel with about 50 people, and Caroline made her entrance by running through it. The tables were pushed aside and the music was turned up. It was time for some good old fashion dancing. The room was vibrating with joy and good vibes as the crowd meldedinto one pot of simha. The smile on Caroline's face could be seen from space. She truly had accomplished what she set out to do.

Doing good for others is something we should all try to instill in our children from a young age. This way we can keep the cycle of hesed going throughout the generations! The Special Childen’s Center is just one example of the many community organizations that can always use support from volunteers.