Monmouth County Teens Hailed as Heroes
For Children with Special Needs
In an elegant setting at the Two River Theater in Red Bank on Monday, June 6, “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-Hand recruits 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 Dr. Ellyn and Alan Lerner, Ronnie and Robert Zweben 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 Zachary Fendrick and Sam Waters spoke lovingly of their special friend, Harrison — diagnosed with autism at an early age — and the value they derive from being part of the program. “Hand in Hand undoubtedly brings light to the lives of our special friends, but it brings just as much light and joy to our own lives,” said Sam. “When Zach and I are with Harrison, we are free of the judgment found in most other places in our everyday lives. We have forged a friendship that impacts us far beyond our several hours a week. Both Harrison and Zachary and I can truly be ourselves, and it takes a very special friend to allow you to do that.
The emotional peak of the evening was parent Judi Franco Chalme’s speech about her and her husband Marc’s own experience with Hand in Hand.
Finally, attendees were treated to an outstanding performance by child prodigy pianist Ethan Bortnick. His gifted musical talent was matched by his remarkable charisma and stage presence.
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 or call 732-229-2424.