Tonight: SCHI Sixteenth Anniversary Dinner


schiBy F. Gardner

I was 21 years old and my life was pretty much following the path I had seen everyone ahead of me follow. Seminary. Marriage. Baby #1. Baby #2 was on the way. I had a typical, if unexciting, life. Two weeks before my due date, we were in the hospital – a Manhattan hospital, because I’d only use the best – and within a short time, my little Shira was born. Another girl! Wow. I was sure I was having a boy this time. I called my friends and family and took a nap. I had a yummy milkshake.

And then, in came the doctor, and boom, just like that, my life took a crazy sharp turn. It was so fast, without my permission, and I immediately became a different person. A person with a Downs kid.

Somehow, we were allowed to leave the hospital without conclusive evidence or proper testing. Being home was weird. No gifts. Few phone calls. No one could do anything right. If someone said mazel tov, I cried. If they didn’t, I cried. One thing everyone agreed was that I must be some huge tzadeikes that Hashem had chosen me…

In the meantime, Shira wasn’t eating properly and was spitting up strange colors. The doctor wasn’t concerned, though, until we landed up in the emergency room one Shabbos morning. What followed were some very stressful days. The doctors in this prestigious hospital could not identify the problem. We almost lost our daughter a few times.

Boruch Hashem, three months and a few miracles later, we were home. By the time that period was over, Shira had stolen our hearts, with her little beady brown eyes and furry brown hair. We were getting used to our new role.

I remember one Friday night, when we were at my parents, and I couldn’t come to the Shabbos table. I just wanted to sulk and wallow in self pity about my little girl. My husband came up to talk to me. I said to him, “How can I ever go to the grocery store with her? Everyone will stare at me and I’ll be so embarrassed.” My husband answered me, “Hashem gave her to you for a reason. After 120, she’ll run to you in Shomayim calling, “Mommy! Mommy! Thank you for taking care of me my whole life. I am so sorry you had to be embarrassed of me!”

Boruch Hashem, now I can say that my husband was more wrong than wrong. Not only am I not embarrassed of my Shira, I am so proud of her. I let her push her own little shopping basket and talk to everyone she sees. She is the friendliest kid in the store. In my mind, she is gorgeous. She is talkative and kind to everyone – down to the delivery men. I love bringing her with me everywhere I go and seeing people talk to her and tell me how adorable she is.

Early Intervention days were tough. I don’t know how I got through them. I had to make sure that from 9:30 to 2:00 Rochel was dressed, fed, rested and happy for at least two hours of therapy a day. I also had my 15-month-old. And I also tried to have a life. It was hard, but at the risk of sounding clichéd, we got so much nachas from everything she accomplished and will never take those things for granted from our other children. My family was accepting and supportive of us and Shira, which was very helpful. We tried to do a lot of extra things for her which well-meaning people were always suggesting. That made things very stressful and I longed for the day she would go to SCHI and I wouldn’t have to be busy with her every single second.

Once she turned three, she began going to SCHI. That’s when having a special needs child became embarrassingly easy. Shira is taken care of beautifully, she comes home happy, she loves the busses, and she loves her morahs and friends. I feel a tremendous debt of gratitude to SCHI.  I don’t think I need to say more than that. Anyone who has a child in SCHI, or who knows anything about SCHI, knows exactly what I am talking about.

So far, it has been quite a happy life. I have a daughter who brings me more happiness than I ever could have imagined. My heart swells every morning when she gives me a huge cross-eyed Downsie good morning grin and tells me, “Sun came up. I told you so!”

I changed from being a person who didn’t really like special needs children to a person who is fanatical about them – every single one. I went from a typical, young, self-absorbed newlywed type to a wise tzadeikes type, overnight. I also gained a huge support group, full of new friends who are all there for each other. I love telling my mother about my friends with 13 children, my friends with grandchildren, and how I have a special place here in Lakewood. I was even asked to speak for the mothers at a SCHI event.

I see how my children grew from this, how I grew from it, and how my extended family grew from it. Most of all, I thank Hashem, Who knew what was good for me and what I needed in this lifetime. I would never have chosen this path, but luckily we are not the ones in control. I am truly grateful for this child with her heilege neshama, and although I do not know why I was chosen, I hope I will not disappoint.

Join the SCHI parents and staff, and the entire Lakewood kehillah, at SCHI’s Sixteenth Anniversary Dinner tonight at Lake Terrace Hall in Lakewood, NJ.

{F. Gardner for Newscenter}


  1. My daughter is dreaming that she can get her disabled daughter into SCHI, but some people and thier lawyers are doing everything they can to shut down SCHI. They are greedily eyeing the money SCHI gets and don’t want any competition, whether their schools are suitable for the frum children or not. They are making it difficult if not impossible for new applicants to get into SCHI. Does anyone have an eitza?

  2. As a parent of a child in SCHI, they give their full heart and then some. They have saved my sanity and Shalom Bayis. Thanks you Rabbi Eisemann and staff.

  3. beautiful article. with a sister and sister in law both working in the field (one in SCHI) i have to give them so much credit for the hours of investment they put into these beautiful gifts of HKB”H. may the geula come soon so that all cholei yisroel have a refuas hanefesh and refuas haguf.

  4. To Achdusseeker

    I do not know your situation, however I would urge you to contact Rabbi Eisemann directly, as I did in a similar Matzav.

  5. who’s trying to close it down! SCHI is a wonderfull program- the kids love it!when they come to camp bonim during the summer the staff puts in all there energy and time- amazing! it fells good to be a jew! keep up the great work SCHI!

  6. I personally know the person who wrote this article..amazing people whom we can learn so much from – how to accept hashem’s will and grow from personal challenges. a true inspiration to all!