Lilian and Sasha Granovsky, a Messianic couple from the Tel-Aviv area and parents of a daughter with special needs, are the visionaries behind this initiative. As their daughter reached the age of 20, they realized that there are few options available for grownups with special needs, none of which available within a Messianic framework.
“When people with special needs reach the age of 21, there is no Messianic framework, place, or activities open for them,” Lilian Granovsky tells KNI. “At this age, their parents are older, and don’t have as much strength. It is a lot harder for them to be there for their grown-up kids. Once they are grown-ups, and the parents can’t care for them anymore, their only option is private or governmental non-Messianic frameworks, such as institutions and kibbutzes with special programs. We know about our daughter, that the faith is central to her life, and worship and prayer are important to her. They do not meet these needs in a government institution.”
The Granovskys drafted a detailed vision and arranged three zoom meetings with different elders and ministry leaders in Israel to explain the ideas and plans, and brainstorm ideas. KNI graciously received access to the recordings of these, and it was evident that many of the pastors support the idea with great enthusiasm.
The vision has two parts – residence and activities. The residence part envisions homes in different parts of the country. Each home will hold 2-4 special-needs adult residents and a couple to serve as “mother and father” of the house. Each resident will have a private room arranged and organized according to his character and desire. Granovsky brought up a few different options for residence. Either renting houses and equipping them, or building a new home tailored to the special needs, which could also include facilities for employment and activities. Another option is to use, at least initially, existing facilities that belong to different ministries.
As a result of the meetings, they drew up a tentative written vision which goes into further detail and states: “The center will be staffed by a professional team that will include a coordinator, a social worker and counselors. Some of these may be national service volunteers as well as individual volunteers from Israel and abroad. Additional part-time staff could include occupational therapists, nurses, rehabilitative art teachers and therapeutic gardening instructors. … Professional equipment would enhance the staff’s ability to serve residents and could include state-of-the-art technological equipment tailored to the needs of the residents, a gym with a variety of devices, a snooze room, supportive and alternative communication equipment.”
The vision statement puts a special emphasis on the Messianic aspect: “An integral part of the house activities, as a Messianic house, is common worship of God, including times of praise, reading and studying the Scriptures and prayer. In addition, residents will participate in a local congregation as full participating members. The local congregation to which they belong will provide them with a framework as well as spiritual authority.”
“Projects always have two basic needs – people and money,” Granovsky stated in the meeting. “We need to find the right people, and we also need the father and mother of the home to be well paid. We also need to fund food, transportation, furniture, rent, etc.” She explained that part of the funding will come from the families of the residents, as they receive an allowance from the government, but it will not be enough to cover all the needs. As for finding the right people, Granovsky said the staff they need to hire are the mother and father of the home, preferably a young married couple without children, and they need one such couple for each home. A car and a driver are vital, as well as professionals who can build the individual programs and follow the residents. “The mother and father don’t have to be professionals, they just need to have the right heart – but they will need some guidance from a professional to know how to handle the challenges,” she said.
The second part of the vision is about daily activities, integration into national youth camps and Messianic conferences, service in the IDF, all depending on the level of independence of each individual. Each individual will have his own tailored program. The written vision states: “Daily activities will take place off-site, in which the special-needs adults can participate in both indoor and outdoor projects, develop additional life skills and gain independence within their limitations. These daily activities, particularly those on the weekends, would be provided for special-needs children as well as special-needs adults.” The idea is to arrange five Messianic activity centers in five different parts of Israel, in cooperation with local ministries and congregations, where most of these activities will take place.
In the meetings, they also brought up that there will be a need to cooperate with the government for the proper permits, and the possibility of recruiting national service volunteers (a volunteer program which serves as an alternative to military service for Israeli youth). One can also apply for at least partial government funding. The written vision statement also emphasizes that cooperation with international ministries and churches for donations, volunteers, and vital expertise. Similar Christian homes no doubt already exist in many parts of the world, and learning from their expertise is important.
The vision also includes a program where “normal” families can come and stay for free in one of these residences over a weekend and get meals and lodging for free in exchange for developing contacts with the residents and learning about their needs. This would increase contact and normalization and encourage children in these families to be accepting of people with special needs. It might inspire some to study special education when they get older. For families that have kids with special needs, a vacation like that would help the kids get familiar with the place, and make them comfortable to move there when they turn 21. For the parents, a vacation like that would give them a much-needed rest from their daily life with that child, as there are staff present who can give them extra support.
The vision for the future is grand, but Granovsky stressed also that she wants to start small and slowly build it up, rather than fundraise large amounts and build something huge that might not materialize the way they wanted. In the meetings, the pastors and ministry leaders discussed the practical aspects and the first steps, such as the legal framework needed, hiring a project manager, building a website, do fundraising, and building a financial long-term plan.
Many other practical aspects were brought up in the meetings. One mentioned that there are Christian colleges abroad where they teach special education, and one could envision a partnership. Perhaps their students could come to Israel to volunteer and gain experience. “I imagine it would be a dream for many of those students to come and help Jews and Arabs in Israel with special needs,” one pastor said. Another brought up that clear guidelines must be in place about how to define Messianic people with special needs in the first place – who can be a resident and who can’t. How involved must they be in a church or congregation to qualify, and how severe must the special needs be? “Identify potential gray zones in advance and make decisions before they occur,” he said.
One participant in the meeting also brought up the importance of closely monitoring the staff and making sure everything runs smoothly, having checks and balances in place.
“Someone can have the right heart, but not the education and patience it takes to work with these people. We need to ensure the staff works in shifts and gets enough rest. If something controversial happens, that can quickly erode both the families’ and the government’s trust and shut down the entire project,” he said.
“Say out loud what you mean, please. Rape? Pedophilia? A caretaker coming home pregnant?” another pastor asked.
“Those would be severe, but even less than that could be enough to create problems. Just a person losing his patience and screaming or hitting a resident out of frustration can be devastating, even if it just happens once.”
The one practical issue that was brought up that has to be done first, was to conduct a general survey among the congregations to get a picture of how many people with special needs there are who would want to join the program, and also how many people there are with the right education and training who could work with them. At writing time, this survey is being sent out in Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian and Amharic to all Messianic congregations in Israel.
“Once the survey is done, we will have a better understanding of the needs and the scope of this project, and we will be in a better place to establish a legal framework and hire one or two project managers who can grab this project and run with it,” Granovsky told KNI. “They will work with fundraising, talking to congregations, volunteers, prospective residents and their parents, and preparing the groundwork. We need at least a year of this type of groundwork to build trust with all the involved parties. We are the visionaries and will be involved, but we can’t work with logistics and administration from morning to evening. We need skilled project managers for that. During this year we should also arrange conferences to increase visibility and interest.”
As these plans take form and materialize, we ask that you keep this milestone project in prayer. We will let our KNI readers know as soon as there is a way to contribute financially.