The Orthodox Jewish Teens Who Sit Bedside With Sick Children
Alex Grossman grew up in a modern Orthodox home on Long Island, attending Jewish day schools her whole life. Both at home and at school, a constant focus was placed on gimilut chasadim – performing acts of loving kindness. It was because of this upbringing that Alex was motivated to get a job after her senior year of high school at HASC – a summer camp for children with special needs. Alex instantly fell in love with the experience and has worked there every summer (seven years!) since. “It may look like it’s the staff who give to the campers,” Alex explains, “But it’s actually the campers, some of whom are severely disabled, who are constantly giving chizuk (emotional and spiritual strength) to the counselors.”
Because of the various disabilities the campers have, many of them are very fragile and end up needing a lot of hospitalization throughout the year, whether it be for pneumonia, overnight seizure testing, or surgery. Six years ago, during Alex’s second summer in camp, the director asked if she could send out a mass text message to find someone to spend the night at Columbia Presbyterian with a sibling of one of their campers who has Downs Syndrome and was suffering with pneumonia at the time.
Suddenly Alex realized that many of these campers needed something they weren’t getting at camp – a network of volunteers to visit them when they were hospitalized. Alex was only nineteen years old at the time and had never run an organization, but she wasn’t deterred. It was clear to her that with a little bit of planning a big impact could be made on countless families in need. She created an e-mail address called email@example.com and began to gather volunteers. Word of this service spread like wildfire; call after call came in from families who had been desperate for such help, and thus, HASC Cares was born.
Over the years, Alex has collected a long list of volunteers, but she’s still surprised that whenever she emails out a new request for a hospital visit the responses come flooding in…ususally within seconds. While bikur cholim (visiting the sick) organizations are common in the Orthodox community, such services often mean quick visits to cheer up several patients at once. At HASC Cares, the volunteers regularly spend the entire night, Shabbos or yom tov
as they sit bedside with these kids. Nurses and doctors often comment how blown away they are seeing strangers voluntarily sleeping on a chair next to a sick child.
It’s not just the special needs kids who are helped by the dedicated volunteers of HASC Cares. The entire family benefits greatly too as one mom, whose daughter was 11 years old when she came down with a bad case of pneumonia, writes:
We are still weeping and mourning, attempting to adjust to the enormity of the loss of our beautiful, precious and beloved daughter Rachel Shira. Rachel Shira was one of our 8 children, but our entire family revolved around her. Rachel Shira was the cherry on the cake of our family, our pride and joy. So when she suddenly took ill with a serious case of pneumonia, we all rewrote our schedules to focus on being with her every moment, advocating for her and doing whatever we could to facilitate her happiness, comfort and recovery.
Our children had their schedules and father had to work. Mom was able to spend all day with Rachel Shira, but had to be home for the little ones by 4.30pm. Father could not come for the night until around 10.
This was an immediate issue since the doctors had told us that we were looking at a stay of minimum 6 weeks. We felt very strongly that having Mom home between 4.30 and 10 was of paramount importance. The kids would have a sense of normalcy despite the absence of their sister, and Mom would have some hours at home to refresh for the next day. We wanted the kids should see their father too. Yossie was committed to sleeping at the hospital but he also has an evening job.
Family and friends offered to sit with Rachel Shira, but more hours were needed. People offered help on many fronts and in no time, we became the recipients of kindness in forms of rides and suppers, homework help and household help. Filling the 4-7 and 7-10 slots though, was not so easy. Begging individuals put them on the spot especially when the need was for that day or the next. We felt uncomfortable.
Enter HASC Cares. Alex called within a few days of us being at the hospital. She quickly offered to find people to be with Rachel Shira during the times we wanted. My initial thought was ‘how sweet, but you don’t know how difficult this is’. But she did, and she had worked out how to make it happen. With all the good will of other organizations and also a very sweet girl at Stern College, HASC Cares was driven, focused and had a pretty large database of mature young women who were willing to commit to this awesome chessed. I did my best to find people, but I knew that Alex would fill in all the gaps. Her volunteers came with a smile, a maturity and in the quietest way, they saved the day. Simply put, we leaned heavily on Alex and her crew during those weeks, and while our hearts were heavy, we were able to function, because of her organization.
Over the years of having been blessed with a special needs child, we merited to come across many beautiful people. In the weeks preceding her passing, this was also the case. We will forever be indebted to HASC Cares for what they did for us. May all these wonderful girls be blessed. G-d chose to take or daughter home. We are devastated by this loss, but we also associate the time of her passing with our connection with some very special, tender and kind individuals – member of the HASC Cares team.
From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!!!!!
Yossie and Esther Rosenbaum