Miriam and I really didn’t set out to start a NPO that first summer, 2007, when we started Shutaf. Our learning curve over the past 5 years has been steep, especially considering that neither one of us came from the world of non profit management and business. Miriam is a graphic designer, now working as a CFO of a growing organization – okay, she does have expertise, along with her husband in the field of fundraising, specifically foundation grants. But me? I’m an entrepreneur – a whole foods caterer, would-be-writer, stay-at-home-homeschooling parent, theater director for teens and now adults. Not exactly an expert in the field of special needs.

I was thinking of this as I stood and chatted at a Shutaf family gathering at the Nature Museum in Jerusalem yesterday in the late afternoon. Over sweet slices of watermelon, pasta salad and Shutaf’s Program Director Deb’s famous chocolate chip cookies and yes, the obligatory pita and hummus, we caught up with each other and talked about the school year that just ended. One parent, Carmel, father of Nir, who’s now 16 or so, talked about the fantastic year that his son had – how he made strides in academic work as well as personally – how proud he is. I noted that we often forget that with kids who have developmental issues, growth and development are indeed delayed, meaning, that we need to be patient and wait for the changes, maturation and path to adulthood…when they come. That is, when the time is right for the young person. Learning curve – it’s different for each person, right?

I sat with another parent, Sharon, mother to Morane, about the same age. She was describing Morane’s busy schedule and her successes socially at her different programs – what a pleasure that is for her mother as well. Both Sharon and Carmel, talked across and over their kids as they flirted with each other in that sort of uncomfortable way that younger teens oven have with each other as they begin to examine and understand their sexuality – it was great to watch. That’s another learning curve to ford if you’re a parent to a child with special needs – for sure.

Yoni, who arrived with his mother, Sue, enjoyed chatting shyly with some of the younger kids who were there. Yoni, who’s a few years older, has been part of the Shutaf older teens program for a couple of years enjoying the sense of being needed and taking part. His mother has been thinking of what happens beyond 21 and if Shutaf will develop a new program – we’re working on an idea that would hopefully be run by another organization with our input. Miriam’s project – certainly a learning curve. Just the thought of 21 and aging out of school and after school programs is quite frankly frightening for most parents who year to find the right answer for the kids future’s.

Gabriella and her 2 girls, Avia and Ella, brought two local teens who run a youth movement program on Tuesdays, introducing the program to the other parents. We heard about Knafayim shel Crembo – another youth movement program that has arrived in Jerusalem from the center of the country this year. Nir’s had a great time there this year, assisting a girl in a wheelchair, who has significant motoric and developmental issues and who now smiles when she sees him arrive. What a great opportunity for this teen.

Tanya and her 3 boys ran around with Deb’s dog, Goula, just enjoying the cooler late afternoon temperatures. Tanya was curious – watch Shutaf’s newest movie featuring Tanya and her boys –  to hear more about the youth movement ideas and we talked about the school her eldest, Ami, is in this year – is it the right environment for him or not – it’s got a tough and competitive ethic that often seems at odds with his nature. Choosing the right programs – moving our kids when necessary? Always a learning curve. Never easy.

From all of us at Shutaf, we remind you to accept your learning curves, to be glad that we all have our path in lives that leads us to hopeful satisfaction within an accepting community of our choosing.

By Beth Steinberg, Shutaf Co-Founder