By: J.L. Shively
The Hebrew word “Chai” means “life” and also consists of the numerical meaning for the number 18. For this reason, Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum remarked that the year 2018, the year the much anticipated Life Town complex is planned to open, will be a “year of life” for the community.
The Friendship Circle, the program responsible for the construction of this complex, was founded by Grossbaum and his wife, Toba, 18 years ago and it is a program that has been “expanding ever since,” states Grossbaum.
The Friendship Circle is a program which had been started by friends of the Grossbaum’s in Michigan and is a concept which the Grossbaum’s brought to this state to benefit Morris and Essex counties.
With approximately 850 teen volunteers, the Friendship Circle is an organization which has logged more than 45,000 hours a year in volunteer activities assisting children with special needs.
“At the heart of all Friendship Circle programming is the belief that each and every individual can be a productive member of the community and benefit from inclusive programing,” as stated on the Life Town website.
This is one of the founding ideas behind the latest and grandest construction, which is the completion of a 53,000 square foot facility, named Life Town.
This facility will include many exciting opportunities for families and students such as a zero-entry pool, gymnasium with sound-absorbent walls for children with sound sensitivity and even a three lane bowling alley, to name only a few of the many exciting features.
The largest allocation of space, 11,000 square feet, is designated to the creation of “Life Village” which is an indoor recreation of a main street, complete with traffic lights and roads. The Life Village, Grossbaum explains, will help children and teens with disabilities, “build life skills in a real setting.”
This recreation of a main street will include many different stores and shops which any person may use on a regular basis for important transactions such as a bank, supermarket or medical facility.
Life Village will also include other places a person may visit such as a movie theater or coffee shop.
Through the use of role playing, these stores and stations will give participants a chance to act out life-like situations that they are likely to encounter and therefore allow them to be better prepared for a more independent life style.
Grossbaum explained that the program is already in touch with local special needs schools in order to partner with them individually as well as with families to help cater to each student’s specific needs.
Life Town will utilize “state of the art technology,” explains Grossbaum. Using a platform called Oneder, Life Town will automatically generate and prompt the system to cater to the needs of each individual student.
The Oneder program uses an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, which, according to the website, allows for more time spent one on one with each student.
The Life Town complex is not only a facility for special needs students but will offer a lounge for both parents and volunteers and assist students interested in pursuing a career in a special education field.
It is planned that the program will offer internships for students to earn college credits towards further education in the special education field while they participate and volunteer.
Life Town will essentially be “an inclusive environment for students and for the community to be involved,” states Grossbaum.
The complex itself is located in Livingston and is being constructed in an existing structure that is being reconstructed to the needs of the program. The building as a whole is estimated to cost $15.5 million and so far the program has raised $13 million for the project.
Grossbaum estimates that the construction will be complete nearing the late fall of 2018. For more information about Life Town, to donate or to learn more about volunteering visit the website at www.lifetown.com. Updates on construction and partners can also be found on the website.
In closing, Grossbaum states that this complex is “a unique opportunity to be involved in not just a passive way” but to “under one roof make a difference in the community.”