Services for individuals with special needs turn disability into possibility
Ari Goldberg identifies with many labels: Jewish teenager, athlete, student, brother, and dog whisperer. But not for a second does he believe he is his autism. Ari may be on the spectrum, but he has worked unwaveringly to overcome his challenges. And the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta has played a big part.
When Ari was a toddler, his mom, Jess, worried about his delayed development despite their pediatrician’s reassurance. Ari’s preschool teachers at The Weinstein School shared her concerns. “With love and the best intentions, the preschool team steered us to a developmental pediatrician, and we soon received an autism diagnosis,” Jess recounts. “This was a gift, because early intensive intervention makes a profound impact on children under five. Ari got the attention he needed because of his incredible teachers.”
Thanks to the support he received at the MJCCA, Ari is able to succeed independently.Jess|Ari’s mom
At four years old, Ari wanted to play team sports. Jennifer Lieb, the MJCCA’s Inclusion Specialist, arranged for a facilitator to assist Ari. Jess notes, “The facilitator gave Ari confidence, and for the first time, he could participate in a group activity like other kids. The day Ari kicked his first goal, there wasn’t a dry eye on the field. Therapy provided Ari with learning skills; the MJCCA’s Inclusion Program taught him how to embrace childhood.”
Jess touts the MJCCA’s Athletics Director, Zak Elfenbein, as “the type of coach and mentor I wish for all young athletes. Zak never saw ‘autism,’ he simply saw Ari.” With Zak’s coaching, Ari achieved big life goals; he made the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games® gold-medal-winning basketball team and his middle school’s basketball team.
After three summers at MJCCA Day Camps with a facilitator, Ari no longer needed one. He was determined to attend Camp Barney Medintz, but the idea of overnight camp was daunting. Jess notes it was Susan Berger, CBM’s Associate Director, who set Ari up for success. “Susan ensured he was accepted by peers and counselors. Ari not only learned social skills, but also developed a deep connection to the Jewish community and Israel,” Jess beams. This summer marks his sixth at CBM.
“Ari knew early on the MJCCA was a safe place to learn and grow, and it gave him the confidence to explore” Jess explains. “Now Ari is thriving in all areas of his life and wants to help others. He plans to coach kids with special needs for his Bar Mitzvah project. Thanks to the support he received at the MJCCA, he is able to succeed independently.”
94% of parents said their child felt they were part of the camp community as a result of participating in the MJCCA Day Camps Inclusion Program.