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A Year of Their Own

Braha Bender

For most kids, graduating from high school marks both an end and a beginning. But what opportunities are there for special-needs high school graduates who also want to have a year in Israel — and a fulfilling life after that? Enter Darkaynu, which is opening up new worlds for special-needs teens through its innovative programs.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

special needs boyIt’s hard to describe the feeling when a teen like Peryl* casually drops the phrase, “I’m a shanah alef girl.” We’re sitting in the small, cozy office of Mrs. Elana Goldscheider, menahelet of Midreshet Darkaynu. Located in Talpiot, in the same building as Midreshet Lindenbaum, Midreshet Darkaynu welcomes 15 special-needs girls between the ages of 18 and 24 every year.

In a classroom down the hall the girls are excitedly chatting about “the lady who will write an article about us in a magazine” and Peryl has just walked in to see what all the commotion is about. Now, while Mrs. Goldscheider goes to check on something outside, Peryl plunks herself down on the menahelet’s large swivel chair behind the desk, grins widely, and tells me about her day.

“I love Darkaynu. People here are really, really nice! I love our teachers. It’s a great place to be.”

Peryl’s guileless charisma glows all over her friendly face. This is the first time that I’m having a real conversation with a special-needs girl, and to my surprise I’m discovering that I’m enjoying it.

I ask Peryl about her job. After morning classes, every Midreshet Darkaynu student spends several hours a day at a volunteer job where she can develop life skills and feel contributive. Peryl bubbles over with enthusiasm about what she does.

“I work in a petting zoo cleaning cages! Today two hamsters almost escaped. Also, I fed a mouse to a snake. Do you know how fast a snake moves when it’s hungry?”

I didn’t.

“I’ve loved animals since I was a little kid. I have a cat at home. He’s named Koby.”

It is sometimes difficult for me to understand her slurred speech. Nonetheless, our common language is the simple truths of human life: Peryl has interests. Peryl has goals, accomplishments, relationships. She is glad to tell me about them, and there is nothing cool, calm, and collected about Peryl when she does so. She doesn’t have the same walls the rest of us do. Her emotions are close to the surface, effervescent. Her smiles are genuine. It’s terrifically refreshing to spend time with someone so inspired.

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