The sounds of children are once again heard in the former Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools (JPPS) building on Van Horne Avenue in Montreal. It is now home to the Donald Berman Yaldei Developmental Centre, an early intervention treatment facility, school and recreation centre for some 240 kids with autism, developmental delays and other learning and behavioural challenges.
Yaldei bought the building from JPPS two years ago and moved in the spring of 2016 from a much smaller space in the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
The over-60-year-old building required major renovations and adaptations, which have now entered the second phase, thanks to the largest single donation to Yaldei in its 20-year history.
Sylvan Adams, a prominent real estate developer in Quebec, and his wife, Margaret, who made aliyah at the end of 2015, have given $2 million to Yaldei’s capital campaign.
Martin Schwartz, who chairs the drive, said that over $7.5 million has now been raised and the goal of bringing in over $8 million to cover both the purchase and renovation is within sight. Another top contributor is real estate developer Michael Rosenberg.
The edifice has been named the Sylvan Adams Building and was dedicated at a Nov. 2 ceremony that was attended by community and public officials.
Yaldei, a non-profit organization, has come a long way since it was founded in the Tash Chassidic community in Boisbriand, Que. It initially operated out of a small bungalow, serving a handful of children from that community, including those of founder Menachem Leifer, who remains its executive director.
He and his wife had the idea of creating a program like Yaldei, when they couldn’t find the services they needed for their two special-needs children.
“An enormous amount of money was needed. We had no family or friends to provide it,” said Leifer. “We were told it was an impossible task, but we banked on one thing wholeheartedly: we believed there were still kind-hearted people among us, special people who truly care about others. People with vision.”
Today, Yaldei’s services are provided on a non-sectarian basis to children up to the age of 18. Only the school section receives provincial government funding.
Basic upgrades to the building, including the installation of an elevator and ramps, had to be done first, before the former elementary school was adapted to meet Yaldei’s requirements.
The Sylvan Adams Building has space to provide separate rooms for a variety of therapies: music, art, speech, massage, physio and relaxation. There are ABA (applied behaviour analysis) observation rooms, a Snoezelen room (a multi-sensory environment), a large gym and an area for an interactive metronome, a tool that helps improve cognitive skills.
‘They were not communicating; now they are bubbly kids.’
Plans also show a spacious family centre. Coaching parents in how to complement their child’s treatment at home is an important part of what Yaldei is doing, as well as providing respite to families.
Demand for Yaldei’s services is high, especially the school, which was added several years ago, and the wait list has grown rapidly. It hopes to accommodate more than 400 children within the next few years.
Leifer noted that it took the Adamses “all of 40 minutes” touring the facility and seeing how the children are doing to decide to donate.
“Yaldei understands the value of the potential of each individual,” Adams said. “It has a wonderful, loving staff and the improvements in kids is amazing. After 1½ years, they are not recognizable. They were not communicating; now they are bubbly kids running down the hall. The only reason to call them special is they are so cute.…
“They will be happy, productive members of society, all due to this fantastic institution.”
Leifer said Yaldei hopes to hold an official opening next year.