New tech provides new possibilities

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There’s more to the Hebrew Home at Riverdale than just an assisted living facility. There is, of course, its popular art and history museum, an aviary, a shelter for abused senior citizens, and to the surprise of some, a high school.

Throughout the year, the young adult students between 17 and 21 meet at the 5901 Palisade Ave., establishment to learn about health care. They come from P.S. X621 Stephen D. McSweeney School in Pelham Bay, and are part of Hebrew Home’s HOPE — Healthcare Offers Permanent Employment — program.

“These are kids who are not diploma bound,” said Wendy Steinberg, the Hebrew Home’s vice president of communications. “They’re looking for vocational skills, and they get on the job training right here.”

While not exactly an academic school, volunteer director Josephine Catalano says these students learn important skills they can use in a future health care career.

“They get a lot of job experience,” she said. “They’re shifted individually from one section of the home to another, be it transportation work, food services, working with animals — there’s so much they engage with.”

The Hebrew Home has run HOPE since 1996, giving participating students with developmental disabilities much-needed vocational training they could use in pursing future careers.

The institution’s teachers, like Nicholas Kinas, are approved and certified by the city’s education department, which leads Catalano and others to refer to their HOPE program as a “high school.”

“It really is like a high school in a nursing home,” Steinberg said. “It’s not an alternative high school due to our connection with the department.”

The presence of youth in a nursing home has been a major point of pride, said Dan Reingold, president of RiverSpring Health, the Hebrew Home’s parent organization.

“The residents love being around younger people,” Reingold said. “And it reflects something upsetting, that we still have segregation in this country – people with developmental issues and the elderly are just kept away from the rest of society, and that’s terrible.”

When Reingold started the program 25 years ago, it was during a period in the city’s history — what he describes as the “crack epidemic” — that brings back dark memories.

“A whole generation of kids were lost, and whoever remained was just so far-gone,” Reingold said. “So we started the program to help them. We’ve had so many students, so many young people who power through challenges in a helpful environment.”

That atmosphere hopes to expand what they can provide to their students. This year, the Washington D.C.-based Venable law firm learned through its Manhattan office that the Hebrew Home was trying to add high-technology tools to its HOPE students’ arsenal, like iPads.

Venable, through its foundation, saw its $5,000 grant as a donation. But Catalano sees it as something different: “They provided us an opportunity.”

The Venable Foundation, a philanthropic fund started by the law firm in 1983, says it’s provided $10 million over the last decade to several different organizations.

“We believe the students will be using the iPads for a wide variety of reasons,” Catalano said. “They’ll probably be using them to look for apartments, learn math skills, day–to-day living, budgeting — important things they may not have been able to understand before.”

With the newly donated tablets in their hands, the students typed on the flat screens with the help of Catalano and Kinas.

“I’ve been in the program about a year,” said Tamresa Cabrera, a student from P.S. X621. “I think it will help me learn new skills. I want to start an animal sanctuary, and this will help me learn about that. The birds here at the home are great.”

Angel Martinez joined HOPE this year. He has a few ideas about what his new iPad could be for.

“I have issues with spelling,” he said. “This will help me learn, but it’ll also help me fill out job applications. I’d really like to work with medicine in a hospital or pharmacy.”

HOPE allows the young people — especially developmentally disabled young people — spend more time with Hebrew Home residents.

“They don’t interact with older people very often,” Reingold said. “And our residents were very keen on having the opportunity to be teachers.”

Ultimately, the ability to provide the program for those who need it is Reingold’s highest goal. Stressing that the program provides hot lunches and stipends, along with education and attention that traditional schooling doesn’t provide, he also remembers something that ties everything together.

“There was a young lady who worked here,” Reingold said. “And she told me that when she was in regular high school, she was gone for three weeks and no one noticed. No one paid attention. She was sick one day from here, and everyone — residents, fellow students, everyone — was asking where she was and if she was OK.

“People notice each other here. They are seen.”

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