Fundraiser celebrates adults with special needs

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rachelheller2BY RACHEL HELLER

For most Valley families, a trip to the Los Angeles Zoo is a quick Sunday adventure, only a suggestion away. But for those with developmental disabilities, it’s an all-too-rare occasion.

Enter Chaverim (“friends” in Hebrew), a West Hills-based nonprofit that provides a range of activities and social opportunities for adults with special needs. A program of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Chaverim hosts cooking and craft classes, bingo nights, bowling and outings to places such as the Santa Anita racetrack, Catalina Island and the zoo.

“These are activities that people in everyday life take for granted, but they are very special for our members because without a group like Chaverim, they wouldn’t get the chance to do them,” said Melanie Feder Tasoff, activities assistant for the program.

Tasoff said many developmentally disabled adults – those with autism spectrum disorders, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and other conditions – often miss out on social activities, but Chaverim brings them together and lets friendships blossom. One married couple that hosts movie nights at their home for group members even met through the program.

Members find Chaverim, located onsite at the Jewish Community Center at Milken, through a variety of routes. Some are referred by their therapists. Others learn about it through their synagogues or churches (the program is non-denominational and non-sectarian). All discover a level of friendship and support they might not have experienced in their lives before.

Several of the original members who joined when Chaverim was founded 31 years ago still participate, said program coordinator Gerry Dicker, who himself has been with the organization for a decade.

“It’s really like a family,” Tasoff said.

As Chaverim gears up for its annual fundraiser, officials hope they can keep the family going. The group will host its annual “Shining Star” fundraising concert June 28 at the Milken Community Center, featuring Nashville recording artists Jim and Joy, hors d’oeuvres and silent and live auctions. In addition, the “Chaverim Singers” will join a live band to perform for the expected 200 guests.

“They’re so happy and excited and proud that they can do this,” Tasoff said. “It’s really a joy for them.”

For reservations or more information, call (818) 464-3360.

Rachel Heller is a Sherman Oaks-based freelance writer and grammatical stickler whose work has appeared in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, the Sun Community Newspapers and the Los Feliz Ledger.  She is a graduate of  Boston University and an incoming graduate student at USC. She shudders at misspellings of “then” and “than,” and can subsist for weeks at a time on Menchie’s frozen yogurt.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.