The COVID 19 pandemic posed a significant challenge for Lev Respite – how to continue desperately-needed respite services in a manner that protected the health and safety of the staff, volunteers, and our medically fragile clients. With schools and support programs closing due to the pandemic, parents were left struggling to find support for their children with disabilities. Libenu recognized the increased stress and frustration of the families and the detrimental effect that the lack of social interaction was having on our respite children. We knew that we had to devise creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems in order to best serve our clients.
From March through May, Libenu offered Lev Respite services remotely, in both small group and 1-1 formats. From May to June, Lev Respite was offered in outdoor settings with a ratio of one client to one volunteer. Beginning in July, Libenu resumed Lev Respite small group services in person, outdoors in neighborhood parks. Working closely with our Health and Safety Committee, Libenu developed and implemented safety protocols, purchased and distributed PPE, and provided comprehensive training for staff and volunteers.
Following the success of the summer respite program, Libenu reopened small group indoor Lev Respite services. The first day of indoor group respite was held on Labor Day, consistent with Libenu’s plan to provide respite on national holidays through our legal holiday expansion. Following the expert advice of our Health and Safety Committee, the respite teens and children were divided into small pods of up to 5 participants. Staff and volunteers were assigned to each group to provide consistency. Staff and volunteers underwent additional training, which continues on a weekly basis. All health and safety protocols, including the use of PPE, temperature checks, symptom reviews, use of air purifiers, and electrostatic disinfection of high-touch surfaces are implemented daily. All of the children were excited to be back at Lev Respite and we were delighted to welcome several new participants.
Our indoor program allowed us to help children struggling with distance learning, hybrid programs, or who have been out of school entirely. Distance learning for children with disabilities is ineffective and extremely challenging. Imagine a child in a wheelchair, who is nonverbal and has difficulty with head control trying to focus on an iPad screen for instruction; or a child who cannot sit still to learn from a computer screen. Most of our children require a parent or caregiver to be with them at home throughout school hours in order to access and participate in remote learning. Many parents are at their breaking point as a result. In response. Libenu added individualized academic support to our Lev Respite curriculum in order to address the significant education gap that our participants have faced as a result of the pandemic.
Libenu could not have been able to help our respite families without the help of our community members, partners, and supporters. On behalf of everyone at Libenu, we want to thank everyone who helped make Lev Respite one of the only consistent bright spots in these children’s lives during a time of isolation, frustration, and loss.