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    Q and A with David Mandel From Ohel

    Mazel Tov on being honored together with your wife Susan at this year’s 50th Annual Gala of OHEL. How excited are you and what are you thinking?

    I am honored that OHEL is bestowing this honor on my wife Susan and myself. I appreciate it even more because every year I approach individuals to be Honorees. I recognize the responsibilities that come with this honor and it is truly humbling to receive an award of this nature.

    How many years have you been with OHEL and what does the number 50 mean to you?

    I have been with OHEL for twenty four years. When Mel Zachter, Jay Kestenbaum and Moishe Hellman approached me about being an honoree, they said, “Consider this the first 24 years of your work at OHEL.” If anyone asks, am I retiring from OHEL? No, I am not leaving OHEL. This is OHEL’s 50th year of giant leaps taken and bold steps forward. 1969 was a great year: the landing on the moon and OHEL’s beginnings. A Landmark Year. As 6 astronauts landed safely on the surface of the moon, our team of visionaries embarked on their mission as well.

    How has OHEL changed in the last twenty four years since you started?

    Let’s put into context twenty four years out of fifty. OHEL was founded as a foster care agency, and fifty years later, OHEL remains a top rated foster care agency by NYC Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). There are many organizations and businesses that don’t continue to do the work they started fifty years earlier. This is understandable. The world changes, life changes, industries change. OHEL remains the single organization for Jewish children who have been removed from their home by ACS due to allegations of abuse or neglect. When ACS needs placement of a Jewish child into a Jewish home, OHEL is called. So, we’re still doing that work fifty years later. OHEL opened in October 1969 serving four Jewish kids. Today, we are serving over 13,000 individuals throughout OHEL’s multitude of programs. That shows you the range of OHEL’s work and impact. Housing, outpatient counseling, employment services, trauma work, family support, elder care, Camp Kaylie…

    Who are these 13,000 people and what does OHEL do for them?

    Today, one of the most needed services for children is managing anxiety. We go into many schools and provide counseling services for anxiety. We train faculty and parents and work directly with students on identifying and responding to anxiety. We also provide outpatient counseling to thousands of children, adults and families in the OHEL Jaffa Family Campus in Brooklyn and in the Kleinman Family OHEL Regional Center on Beach 9th in Queens, as well as day programs, employment, and job preparation and coaching.

    We have 475 men and women living in OHEL’s housing program throughout New York City and Nassau County. We provide housing for 255 men and women living with mental illness, to include bipolar disorder, depression, personality disorder, and schizophrenia. We also provide housing for 220 men and women with developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, autism, and cerebral palsy.

    Today, one out of sixty-six people are on the autism spectrum, including Asperger’s. Many are very independent, others may lack social skills.

    One out of five girls and one out of seven boys at some point in their childhood or adolescence are victims of inappropriate contact, and we provide counseling in this area as well.

    That is significant amount people who require services and that IS the impact being made by OHEL.

    The new beautiful OHEL building on Avenue M, which used to be the NBC building, opened up about a year ago. What does OHEL do in this building?

    Jack Jaffa and the Jaffa family are very supportive of OHEL’s work; as such, the building is named the ‘OHEL Jaffa Family Campus.’ It is a four story building with an underground garage. While it is an aesthetically-beautiful building, what happens inside the building is what makes it truly beautiful.

    It is a place for biological parents to have court ordered visitations with their children who are in foster care. A court ordered visitation means a social worker has to be present because of allegations of neglect or abuse. We have day programs in this building for people with developmental disabilities. Countless groups of volunteers from local schools and synagogues visit the day programs to assist and offer chesed. Our job training program is where we help people with developmental disabilities find a job and keep a job. We have outpatient counseling at the Marvin Kaylie Outpatient Counseling Center. Eight hundred individuals come once a week for individual counseling. OHEL has an extensive trauma program for individuals who have experienced trauma, an accident, a family member who is terminally ill or a loved one who died an unnatural death. Just last week, our team was called into a hospital where a young man passed away; we were asked to break the news to his wife and parents and provide support.

    That’s the work we do.

    We have the Zachter Family Institute for Training, where we provide a myriad of seminars for professionals in the mental health field who require Continuing Educational Credits. We provide ongoing training to our own OHEL staff. We’re also a community center and are happy to lend our space. Council members, such as Councilman Chaim Deutsch have had community forums here, as has the Mayor’s office. We’ve done training for first responders, Hatzalah members, the fire department, and the police department on how to respond to people with autism. The Marine Park Jewish Center used our facility for several days to train individuals on technology skills. By opening up the OHEL Jaffa Family Campus, we are going beyond our walls into the community and that is very exciting! And more!

    Camp Kaylie just finished its 9th year. When you envisioned Camp Kaylie all those years ago, did you ever expect it to become what is today?

    I’m not sure what the right word is to describe Camp Kaylie. Amazing? Remarkable? Extraordinary? Awe-Inspiring? Moishe Hellman, OHEL’s Ombudsman and President Emeritus, and I met with Harvey and Gloria Kaylie many years ago. That’s where the name “Kaylie” comes from – and Kaylie is the word for “my G-d” in Hebrew. Is there a better name for it than Camp Kaylie?

    We had a vision that Camp Kaylie will be a camp for both typical kids and kids with disabilities such as Downs Syndrome, autism, developmental or emotional needs. The vision of Camp Kaylie was for kids with and without disabilities to be fully engaged with each other, in their bunks, the dining room, the shul, during sports, night activities, the swimming pool and lake, everywhere – and for them to have fun, grow and experience camp together. There are many camps that provide programs for kids with disabilities within the camp, but they are within the campgrounds and as a separate program. In Camp Kaylie, the children are fully integrated into all aspects of camp. The true meaning of inclusion…

    So how do you measure success?

    Six years ago, a girl was in the swimming pool speaking to the lifeguard. The lifeguard asked her how she was enjoying camp. The girl answered, “I’m having a great time! No one in Camp Kaylie knows that I have Downs Syndrome!” That’s a success story.

    There are countless stories like this one. We measure our success on the smiles, the hugs and the knowledge of creating a better future. We have received hundreds of letters illustrating success…expressions of gratitude to make every camper feel like he or she belongs.

    Gloria Kaylie likes to say that Camp Kaylie is a camp for typical kids and kids with special needs, and it’s the typical kids that go home special.

    What’s your favorite part of the job?

    Coming to work! As the old adage says, ‘Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’ This is my truth.

    What’s the most challenging part of the job?

    Coming to work!

    My favorite part of the job is feeling that I can make a difference knowing that OHEL can change people’s lives for the better. The most challenging part is getting people to accept our help. People call all day long. They call the President of OHEL’s, Board members, and myself. We offer them our services: counseling, crisis intervention, housing. People will say “We’ll get back to you.” Don’t get back to us, just come in! Our doors are open. There are glass doors all around OHEL, so just come in! It’s hard to get people into the building who are reluctant because of the stigma. Stigma is our challenge and we are making great strides there as well.

    Do you typically go home at night thinking you are happy with what you accomplished that day? Or do you go home thinking you could have accomplished more?

    That’s a great question. Every night at around 11pm, I review all my emails because I’m concerned that I might have missed something very important. It’s a lot of emails, so at times I do miss something important. That’s one of the things that a leader does. Take full responsibility. Do I go home thinking that I could have accomplished more? Good leaders should ask themselves, “What else could we have accomplished? What else could we have done?” But at the same time, you can’t allow yourself to say too often “We should’ve done this, we should’ve accomplished that” because then you’re only thinking of what you didn’t accomplish. It’s not being egotistical. It’s feeling good that things are going well. It’s encouraging the staff and it’s rewarding the staff and still feeling one step ahead of – “what else can we do”? The sky is the limit, I will continue to shoot for the stars, as OHEL has taken bold steps forward after that giant leap in 1969.

    Who are the Rabbonim that OHEL typically consults with?

    Rav Dovid Cohen is OHEL’s Mara D’Asrah since 1969, 50 years, he should live and be well. We are fortunate to have Rav Dovid and his Rebbetzin’s strong support. In 1969, OHEL’s founding Rabbinical Board included Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt’l, the Matisdorfer Rebbe zt’l.

    OHEL’s Budget is $69 million and the upcoming Gala is a big part of the fundraising. Where do you get the rest of the money?

    Every year, the Annual Gala looks to raise a substantial amount of our annual fundraising goal of $7 million. One of the misconceptions about OHEL is that OHEL’s programs are fully funded by the government that do not require funds raised. The fact is that only 85% of OHEL’s budget comes from government agencies, the rest we have to raise on our own. We raise funds to cover deficits in our foster care program. Government does not cover the $250,000 needed for yeshiva tuitions for foster children, summer camps, tutoring and transportation. OHEL raises the funds to cover these critical expenses. Government does not cover the cost of services for individuals with psychiatric disabilities, or for our Trauma work headed by Dr. Norman Blumenthal and Mrs. Tzivia Reiter.

    This is precisely why we have an OHEL Annual Gala. Our Gala Honorees recognize this and have graciously accepted this role in helping raise funds for the vital OHEL programs and countless individuals that rely on us.

    Our Gala Honorees include:

    Guest of Honor: The Meridian Capital Group, accepted by Ralph Herzka, CEO

    Nediv Lev Award: Tsippy and Stuart Nussbaum from Cedarhurst

    Camp Kaylie Family of the Year Award: Judith Goldberg-Ness and Dr. Seth Ness from Teaneck

    My wife, Susan and I are humbly accepting the Leadership Award.

    We deeply thank the 1100 people that we anticipate attending the OHEL 50th Gala for providing the support necessary to serve the thousands of individuals who benefit from OHEL. We thank them all for their generosity.

    What does OHEL have envisioned for the next five to ten years? It’s hard to know exactly what services will be required in the future years, but we are confident that OHEL will respond. Today, a glaring focus of ours is on providing services to individuals with Anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting around 40 million adults — almost 1 in 5 people. We will be there for whatever is needed in the next five to ten years.

    How would you define the word “anxiety?” The feeling of anxiety is a fear or apprehension about what’s to come. The first day of school, traffic, going to a job interview, or giving a speech may cause most people to feel fearful and nervous. However, an Anxiety disorder is a mentalhealth condition characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities and requires help.

    Is there something that we did not discuss that you would like to tell Jewish Vues readers?

    OHEL is fifty years old. Man walked on the moon 50 years ago. NASA is continues to search galaxy in pursuit of exploration. They are searching. Man is always searching.

    OHEL, after fifty years, continues to take those steps here on earth and search for ways to help. Why? We are committed to serving individuals that need us here in New York City, Nassau County, the South Shore, the North Shore – and beyond. We want people who need our services to feel comfortable in reaching out and know that OHEL is here to help. We were asked by the Malibu community a year ago to provide counseling and mental health services in the aftermath of the LA fires and we’ll be there in a couple of weeks when they need us again.

    We need the next generation of leaders to become a part of OHEL. We need people to be involved and proudly commit to…

    …being part of the OHEL leadership

    …share support in the services that we hope to offer in the coming years

    Don’t wait to be invited to be a leader. Step up and be a leader.

    We are looking forward to seeing all of you on Sunday November 24th at the New York Marriott Marquis to celebrate OHEL’s 50th Anniversary Gala!

    Please visit www.ohelgala.org to learn more.