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Program for adults with disabilities faces cash crisis

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Kadima Centre participants Cheryl Kelman and Hirsch Silverstein at a recent Sunday afternoon program. RON CSILLAG PHOTO

A weekly social, recreational and educational program in Toronto for developmentally challenged adults, started 56 years ago by the late Rabbi Joseph Kelman, faces cutbacks and possible closure because of budget constraints.

An outgrowth of the pioneering Ezra Kadima School founded by Rabbi Kelman in 1961, with the then forward-thinking goal of giving “special needs” kids the opportunity to get a Jewish education, the Kadima Centre faces scaled-back programming because of new budget realities, say organizers.

They fear that the 60 or so regular participants that take part on Sunday afternoons could lose their program entirely, if new money isn’t found.

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“There are concerns about the synagogue being able to sustain the program into the future,” said Pearl Grundland, executive director of Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue, where the program takes place.

“The shul is very committed to this program. It’s part of our DNA. We all really worry about it closing,” she said. “For now, it will continue. It will be scaled back. Ultimately, it needs more support.”

The reduced programming will be devastating for participants, many of whom have been attending for years.

“For a number of these participants, this is their big event of the week,” Beth Emeth Senior Rabbi Howard Morrison told The CJN. “This is what they look forward to.”

For years, Beth Emeth funded the Kadima Centre to the tune of roughly $20,000 per year, operating “on a shoestring,” Rabbi Morrison said.

With that money, the centre was able to provide basic Jewish learning and pay program director Marcel Cohen a small stipend.

But three years ago, the centre was greatly enhanced when the non-profit organization Reena, with which most participants are affiliated, injected $48,000 a year into programming.

The program was able to expand to include outings, music and dance performances, magic shows, science lectures, art classes and instruction in cooking and even winemaking.

But Reena announced last year that it would cut its allocation, putting the program back on its original footing.

“In the last three years, we got used to a certain quality and substance to the program,” Rabbi Morrison said. “Without the Reena gift, it just won’t be that program anymore.”

Activities will be “greatly reduced” and the funding shortfall will put “a lot of pressure” on the synagogue, he said.

The synagogue “ran into a funding challenge” a number of years ago, explained Brian Keshen, president and CEO of Reena.

With partial funding from a donor, Reena agreed to help Beth Emeth, while the shul developed “a transition plan,” Keshen said.

Over two years ago, the donor funding stopped and Reena notified Beth Emeth that it could no longer provide money, he added “Late last year, we notified Beth Emeth that while we believe the program to have value, it was not a core service and that within our constraints, we could not direct funding,” Keshen said. “The change is a real loss for those individuals.”

Beth Emeth has approached individuals to be sponsors and donors, Rabbi Morrison said.

At a recent Sunday afternoon session, at which the guest, “Caitlin the Science Slayer,” demonstrated the many qualities of air, Cohen told The CJN that it costs “a bare minimum” of $25,000 to run the program – $10,000 for programming and $15,000 to pay a director.

Reduction or loss of programs “would be the worst thing” for participants, Cohen said. “This means the world to them.”

Cohen is scheduled to move to the New York area at the end of June, “but I’m not going to leave this in chaos,” he vowed, adding that he hopes a GoFundMe page will be set up soon.