Setting the table for dinner. Throwing in a load of laundry. Taking out the trash. Mundane tasks for most of us, but exciting independent living opportunities for a group of adults with developmental delays who recently moved into the Libenu Foundation’s first group home.
The Libenu Foundation is a 501(C) 3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to meeting the residential needs of Jewish adults with disabilities in the Metropolitan Chicago area. Its mission is to provide opportunities for them to live independent, meaningful lives with dignity and respect, as fully-included members of the Jewish community.
Libenu, from the Hebrew word meaning “Our Hearts”, reflects a heartfelt commitment to enabling Jewish adults with special needs to maximize their level of independence and self-determination in an inclusive community setting. That commitment is reflected by the founders of the organization, Dr. Shana Erenberg and Alderman Debra Silverstein, who volunteered their time to make the vision of Libenu a reality.
“Shana and I were deeply concerned for future of the young men and women with special needs in our community” said Silverstein. “Once they graduated high school, where would they go? What would they do? Their options were very limited.”
“Our clients have been raised in traditional Jewish homes where observance of dietary laws, Sabbath, and the holidays are critical aspects of their culture and identity, and a singular joy in their lives” added Erenberg. “We wanted to provide residential options that would be comfortable, reassuring, and familiar, and we wanted them to be an integral part of the community.”
Before Libenu, appropriate housing was so difficult to find that many Chicago families left Illinois to secure residential services and day programs in other states. In fact, it was over a conversation with one such parent that the decision to create Libenu was made. “Our community could not afford such a significant loss of leadership and talent” said Erenberg. Added Silverstein, “It was a completely unacceptable situation.”
Less than two years later, the first group of clients has moved into the Libenu House. The young men have been busy settling into their routines and getting to know each other. “I like to live with my friends,” said Jacob Mosbacher. “It’s the greatest!” Their parents share their enthusiasm. Sarah Brandes, whose son Boruch is a Libenu client said, “I never thought the day would come when our son would be able to move out of our house and live independently in an environment that was suitable for him. I am so grateful that Libenu provided this opportunity for him.” Wendy Kaplan, whose son Asher moved in last week, shared those sentiments. “We are truly blessed” she said.
Baruch Schur, a member of the Executive Board of Libenu and parent of client Josh, summed up the hopes for Libenu. “As parents of a young adult with disabilities, our greatest worry was who would take care of our son when we are gone. Libenu has given us the peace of mind that our son, Josh, can live independently in a comfortable, observant environment. We couldn’t ask for more than that. Libenu is truly a gift to us as well as to the community.”
Alderman Silverstein and Dr. Erenberg are understandably proud of Libenu’s accomplishments, but they are quick to say that there is a lot more to do. Libenu is in the planning stages for a home for young women as well as another home for men. They are working on creating a day program to provide clients with vocational training, continuing education, recreation, and social activities. Most importantly, they are planning to expand to meet an ever-increasing demand for services. “I receive calls for help on a daily basis,” said Erenberg. “The number of Jewish adults who need Libenu’s services is staggering, but we are committed to accommodating them all.”
“We have overcome significant challenges in creating Libenu and opening our first home,” noted Silverstein. “Many people told us that it couldn’t be done. But we were determined – and that determination will carry us forward.”
Debra Silverstein and Shana Erenberg opened their hearts to Libenu. As a community, we must do the same.
For more information about the Libenu Foundation, visit libenufoundation.org, or call (847) 213-0514.