In an elegant setting at the Two River Theater in Red Bank on Sunday, April 25, “Hand in Hand,” an organization for special needs children, paid an emotional tribute to their outstanding teenage volunteers at their annual dinner.
Every sector of the Monmouth County Jewish community was represented as over 350 participants were treated to a most moving and inspirational presentation of Hand in Hand’s unique work.
Founded in 2006 under the auspices of Chabad of the Shore, Hand-in-Handrecruits local teenagers to serve as special buddies for children with autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and various other emotional or physical challenges and disabilities.
The evening opened with words from the organization’s director, Rabbi Laibel Schapiro who introduced honorees Henry and Susan Bloom, Drs. Michael and Lane Rose, and all the dedicated teen volunteers.
Visibly moved as he described the dedication of this unique corps of volunteers, Rabbi Schapiro spoke of the preciousness of the soul of a special needs child, “whose purpose is of no less importance than that of any other human being.”
A heart-rending video gave an emotional view of the work of the organization. Addressing the extreme social isolation of families with special needs children, the video portrayed their plight and their gratitude for the friendship given their children and the social activities provided them by Hand in Hand.
Volunteers Arielle Lang and Ilana Goldman spoke lovingly of their special friend, Stephanie — diagnosed with autism at an early age — and the value they derive from being part of the program. “Never would I have expected this to be such an amazing and rewarding experience,” said Arielle. “Years from now, I won’t remember what color nail polish I had on for the prom or who went with whom, but I will always remember Stephanie’s smile. Only in this program can you touch someone’s life in such a remarkable way and have your life impacted as well.”
After warm words of praise for Hand in Hand from the Honorable Kim Guadagno, Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, Henry and Susan Bloom, generous supporters of Hand in Hand, parents of one of the volunteers, and one of the evening’s honorees said of their son’s involvement: “We are very proud of the way our son gives so fully and wholeheartedly of himself for those kids. He never has to be coaxed; he runs to it with love and enthusiasm!”
The emotional peak of the evening was honoree Michael Rose’s speech about his and his wife Lane’s own experience with Hand in Hand.
“Over three years ago, our [autistic] son Harrison was assigned two volunteers to come play with him once a week. The volunteers are very dedicated and rarely miss a week. Incredibly, in addition to their scheduled time, they sometimes come on their own.
“The program has done wonders for Harrison’s ability to experience love and friendship. The little boy who couldn’t even meet my eyes in 2003 now has a mental image of love and connection that includes holding someone’s hand for warmth and closeness.
“I don’t know who thought up the concept of the program, but I’m willing to bet that they didn’t dream that their idea, so simple in concept, could so incredibly touch the lives of every person in a family.”
Hand in Hand’s Program Director Elana Marcus then described the outstanding leadership, maturity and constant dedication of the volunteers, reading their names and presenting them with an awards plaque. Finally, attendees were treated to a remarkable performance by Marc Salem, world renowned mentalist.
Hand in Hand is making a real difference in the lives of special needs children, their families, and those teenagers who selflessly give of themselves to bring them joy. For more information about Hand in Hand, visit www.hhnj.org.