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Always there for each other

People delivering food to families got to know their other needs and began referring them to the personal support team.

Efrat Leber, interviewed November 1, 2023 By Holly Kemph

Efrat is a university student training as an occupational therapist. She came to volunteer at the command center a few days after the war began, and at first worked in the supply room. Then she got some of her friends together, people in the field of education and special needs, and began building a team to help out with everyday household needs, from babysitting (children were at home and no schools were open at first), to emotional support, to working with special needs children, to helping lonely elderly people. She now leads the Personal and Emotional Support Team.

Efrat says that people who were delivering food or other supplies to families got to know their other needs, and began coordinating these contacts and referring them to the personal support team. The team split into two parallel working groups. One group continues to do face-to-face support: going to people’s homes to offer a helping hand, setting up regular hours for game rooms for evacuated children housed at hotels, going to hospitals to be with birthing mothers whose husbands are at the front, as well as other patients who need emotional support. The second group is in touch with professional psychologists and social workers. The professionals, many of whom are already dealing with people who have emotional and social support needs in their professional capacity, refer new clients to support volunteers for ongoing day-to-day help like shopping, cooking, or simply offering comfort and company.

Now that schools in Jerusalem are back in session, some of the professional educators in the team are no longer as available as they were previously. The team’s efforts are entering a new phase, with fewer volunteers on a daily basis. They are now reaching out to large organizations involved on a routine basis with help for children with special needs, or groups that assist clients who may be at a loss to negotiate the bureaucracies, like Social Security, to obtain all of the help and support to which they are entitled. The team has been linking up to major organizations that deal with trauma victims, such as IsraAid, which had also been working in Ukraine.

Efrat explains that there is a limited pool of volunteers for face-to-face work because it’s often important that such people have some prior background or training. You can’t give people off the street the responsibility involved in offering help to children or adults with special needs. Among other things, they also use a WhatsApp group to organize babysitting for children with special needs on a voluntary basis. The team is built through word of mouth and networking among colleagues, many of which are students in the field of special-needs education.

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