Over Chanukah, the children of a unique branch of Shalva’s After School Activity Center were invited for a three-day marathon of fun; a mini-vacation at Shalva. They were treated to sleepovers, movie parties, carnivals, sports, arts and crafts, singing, dancing and much, much more. For the children themselves, the extended sleepover was an exciting change of pace from their day-to-day lives. And being as most programs go on a break for Chanukah, Shalva’s doors remaining open was a huge salvation for their families too.

Last September, Shalva opened up this new group to the afternoon program. Its uniqueness stems from the demographic of participants which it serves. While a large portion of Shalva’s participants grapple with disabilities that stem from genetic factors, a notable percentage of disabilities are in fact related to environmental factors such as birth defects and injuries.

Children with cognitive and/or physical disabilities coming from backgrounds such as these require a heightened level of discretion, privacy and anonymity. In some more extreme cases, this privacy is in interest of their safety, where knowledge of their whereabouts could pose a threat to their safety.

It’s for this reason that, although we love to share the exciting goings-on, Shalva doesn’t publicize any pictures of participants in this program.

The program is a keystone facet of Shalva’s inclusive vision as it is a pioneer of reverse-inclusion. That is, that instead of facilitating opportunities in a community setting where individuals with disabilities will be welcomed, Shalva instead invites peers from the community into Shalva, where individuals with disabilities become the hosts instead of guests.

The After School Activity Center provides kids and young adults with an all-inclusive social environment where they interact with peers from the community, develop skills that last a lifetime and have an all-around blast. Additionally, the program offers a consistent structure that serves as a tremendous respite for the family. Built into the program is the option for a once-a-week sleepover at Shalva where children practice independent living skills. This sleepover, which feeds into the next day’s program, offers the family a 30+ hour window of respite.