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Family’s donation will expand programs for special needs kids

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Aaron and Kayla Serruya

A $6-million gift from Toronto’s Serruya family will help expand programs for Jewish children with special needs and contribute to the purchase of a building to house them.

Kayla’s Children Centre will bring together a variety of programs and activities under one roof at 36 Atkinson Ave., in Thornhill, Ont., which was vacated when The Leo Baeck Day School moved north to the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus.The state-of-the-art facility is named for Kayla Serruya, daughter of Aaron Serruya, co-founder of the Yogen Fruz frozen yogurt chain. Kayla, now 23, is a former student at the Zareinu Educational Centre, a school and treatment centre for children with physical and developmental challenges that moved into 36 Atkinson as a tenant a little over a year ago.

Last May, Zareinu merged with Project AIM, which runs recreational and therapeutic programs, including Camp AIM, a summer camp for special needs kids.

The new donation will go toward a $20-million fundraising campaign to purchase the building. It will also allow the facility to continue Zareinu’s pre-school, early intervention, after-school, and adapted recreation and sports programs, as well as Camp AIM, according to Yaffi Scheinberg, CEO of Kayla’s Children Centre.

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New initiatives call for a sensory gym, a hydrotherapy pool and a Snoezelen therapy room, which creates a multi-sensory environment and relaxing space to help calm agitation and anxiety.

The centre “will answer the immediate need for intervention and respite for children with special needs in our community,” Scheinberg said in a statement.

“Having a child with a disability affects the entire family,” she added. “Kayla’s Children Centre will be a pillar of support for them and a proud testament to our community’s care of our most vulnerable.”

She said enrolment in the core school program is now at about 70 and is expected to exceed 100, thanks to the donation from the Serruya family. A combined 200 children take part in all programs.

Scheinberg is also co-founder and director of Camp AIM, a summer day program in Toronto for children up to age 13 with autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. She hopes the new funding will allow teenagers to take part, as well.

The camp is slated to move from Beth Jacob girls high school in the Bathurst and Lawrence area of Toronto, to the more spacious centre in Thornhill next summer.

“I witnessed the impact that Zareinu had on my daughter’s life, from a very early stage,” Aaron Serruya told The CJN. “The interaction, stimulation and constant support she received were fundamental to her overall development. We wanted to ensure that other families of children with special needs obtain access to the same incredible support and experience that we enjoyed.”

Kayla’s Children Centre will continue Zareinu’s traditional fashion show. Models and Zareinu students will strut the runway at the Fontana Primavera Event Centre in Vaughan on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m.

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