The JARC in West Bloomfield, Michigan provides services to people with When Valentine’s Day comes around, THe shana Rubenstein of West Bloomfield is a social worker who provides services to participants in the JARC independent living program. It is her job to help people. JARC is a non-profit agency that provides support services for individuals with developmental disabilities.
But, as Rubenstein describes it, everyone she tries to help keeps teaching her the same lesson; being able to help someone else is profoundly empowering to those who are expected to need assistance themselves.
Sixteen years ago, just prior to Valentine’s Day, Rubenstein paid a visit to Richard Graff and Yvonne Vandenberg, both of whom receive JARC services. She asked if they were looking forward to Valentine’s Day, and both said that they hated it. When they were growing up, they said, children with developmental differences did not receive valentines and candy from classmates, were not invited to Valentine’s Day parties.
Together, they came up with a plan to help the couple enjoy the holiday. They assembled Valentine’s goody bags for children with HIV-positive mothers.
“I felt like I accomplished something big, helping brighten the lives of others,” said Graff, of Oak Park.
In the last 16 years, Heart to Heart has outgrown the apartment and, since Vandenberg passed away five years ago, it is now held in her memory.
Another thing that has changed is that the effort is now part of a larger calendar of social action projects, including participation in Kever Avot, a program that helps seniors visit the graves of loved ones, hosting an annual dinner for the rotating South Oakland Shelter when it is hosted at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, and providing volunteers for an annual fishing derby for disabled children co-sponsored by the Oakland County Sheriff’s department.
“In the beginning, they didn’t want JARC clients,” said Rubenstein of her efforts to find volunteer opportunities. She said that hosting organizers felt that the JARC participants would create more work.
But Rubenstein was gently insistent. “I thought it would change the views of the community,” she said. “And it did.”
Late last month, volunteers, at least half of them individuals who receive JARC services, gathered in the JARC office to create handmade, personalized cards, and pack 650 parcels of candy and toys. Continued…
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Graff addressed the group, remembering Yvonne, and reminding those gathered that “holidays can often be a lonely time for many people.”
Beneficiaries of the JARC-sponsored Heart to Heart program were the Beaumont Pediatric Unit, Orchard Children’s Services in Southfield, Neinas Elementary School in Detroit and Lighthouse of Oakland County in Pontiac.
“The appreciation was really mind-boggling,” said Rubenstein. “The kids were cheering and clapping.” The students at Neinas wanted to share with the volunteers and Rubenstein wanted to decline, but was taught the lesson again when the teacher reminded her how empowering it was for these disadvantaged students to be able to give. “People feel better when they can show appreciation, show gratitude, give back,” said Rubenstein.
Rubenstein said that the Neinas school students each made a thank you card. “Thank you for the Twizzlers, Skittles, Lay’s chips and Dots. You made me feel delighted. Your friend, Eric,” read a card adorned with hearts and angel wings and a self-portrait. Another read, “I feel happy when you give me candy.”
“It was magical to see the happiness on the children’s’ faces,” Graff said. “We do not want anyone forgotten on this day of love and friendship.”
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JARC volunteer Barbara Gould delivers goody bags to students at Neinas Elementary School
developmental disabilities and helps to empower them to help themselves.
Several years ago they asked some of the people who receive services from JARC if they were looking forward to Valentine’s Day, and they said they weren’t. When asked why, they said it was because when they were kids, children with developmental differences didn’t get valentines and candy from classmates, and they didn’t get to go to Valentine’s Day parties.
So, they decided to change that and came up with a plan to help the couple by putting together Valentine’s goody bags for children who had HIV-positive mothers. It was a nice way to brighten lives of the children and the JARC recipients at the same time.
Since then, helping people enjoy Valentine’s Day is a tradition at JARC and thie month, volunteer from both JARC and elsewhere created handmade, personalized cards, and packed 650 parcels of candy and toys.
JARC workers said that everyone appreciates the whole experience of showing appreciation, gratitude and being able to help everyone feel good about themselves too. The students who received the goodie bags from JARC volunteers wrote thank-you cards for the people at the center.
The JARC volunteers said seeing the looks on the children’s faces was priceless and they loved giving out the candy and cards and above all helping make the holiday happier for everyone.