Impact Story 2: Community


Sarah’s parents taught her the importance of community service. Attending Jewish day school and Jewish summer camp fanned her love of Jewish values toward helping others. And helping others has brought Sarah more joy than she ever imagined… even in recent years as she’s witnessed her father losing his battle with terminal cancer and her mother becoming wheelchair bound.


When Sarah joined the Federation’s J-Team teen philanthropy program, she was inspired by her parents’ journeys to find a health-related cause to fund. 

Already having been a volunteer with The Friendship Circle, which pairs teen volunteers with children who have special needs, Sarah had discovered how much joy she experienced bonding with her special friend, Eliza. Wanting to delve deeper helping people with special needs, Sarah decided to focus her J-Team research on Yachad, which fosters inclusion of people with disabilities in every aspect of Jewish life.

Meanwhile fellow J-Team member, Maya, was researching Special Strides, which improves quality of life for individuals with special needs through therapeutic horseback riding and related activities. Then magic struck when Sarah and Maya started to wonder whether Yachad and Special Strides might join forces to make an even greater impact.

“It’s amazing to see teens so passionate about all people participating in communal activities, no matter their abilities,” said Tobey Karpel, Yachad coordinator. The joint program with Special Strides will include therapeutic riding and other equine activities, such as brushing, grooming, and feeding the horses, as well as balance parks, cooking, and crafts.

“When my dad died, I was confused, “ Sarah explains. “I didn’t know why this was happening to me. I found comfort through Jewish teachings about helping others. And it’s what my dad would have wanted me to do.

“One day at a time I am becoming a stronger person. I am more aware of others and I have found through the most tragic situations, light is found. I found it myself.

“The fact that J-Team gives teens the training, responsibility, and money to make a difference in the world is so special. When Maya and I first started talking about a Yachad/Special Strides partnership, I never thought two teenagers could create something new. But both organizations and the Federation were so supportive.”

Special Strides Founding Director and Occupational Therapist, Laurie Landy, describes therapeutic horseback riding as an outlet for people with special needs, saying it provides freedom of movement and a rich sensory experience that is beneficial and simply feels good. For the teen volunteers, she says, helping people with special needs is empowering, and a supportive community forms among the volunteers, participants, and participants’ family members who accompany them to the farm.

“I am glad we are going to make the community more inclusive for people of every ability,” Sarah added. “Being part of a community, through my school, camp, J-Team, the Friendship Circle, and now Special Strides, has truly taught me how valuable life is. The support and opportunities I have received through my community have taught me to value each day.

The Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey thanks Sarah for her courageous account and her commitment to Jewish life. She embodies the values of tzedakah (justice), generosity, and collaborative problem-solving that propel the Federation in its work and enable the Jewish community to thrive together. The Federation is proud to support the community partners who have played a part in Sarah’s journey: Jewish day school, Jewish camp, The Friendship Circle, Yachad, Special Strides, and other resources for people with special needs, such as Hand in Hand, Bridge Academy (SEAD), and Shutaf. J-Team is the Federation’s own leadership training program for teens. The Federation also supports JSERVE, the international day of Jewish teen service and Israel advocacy training programs for teens throughout Monmouth and Greater Middlesex counties. Convening partnerships such as the one between Yachad and Special Strides has become a proven way for the Federation to solve more of the pressing needs in the Jewish community.

The support of Federation donors, volunteers, and partners have enabled the Federation to support families with special needs, create community for families experiencing challenging times, inspure young peeople to embrace their Jewish community and values, and much more. Still, the needs of the community continue to outpace available resources. We need everyone’s help for this Jewish community to thrive together.