Eshcolot

Overview: Israeli NPO Eshcolot works for children and adults with intellectual and development disabilities (IDDs) in Israel. Our mission is to enhance the lives of people with IDDs by creating pathways of integration between them, their families and community, and mainstream populations. Whereas people with IDDs are typically separated, our goal is to create the inter-personal and social and conditions for integration in the social, employment, cultural, and housing spheres.

Serving Jewish and Arab populations in northern cities and towns such as Haifa, Tiberias, Afula, Megiddo, Dalia, and Wadi Ara, our impact is increasingly national.

 

The Problem and our Solutions: The people we work for live in hostels or special homes that can, unintentionally, separate and isolate them such that their daily lives are not always familiar to the community where they live. There are significant barriers that exclude them in subtle - and less subtle - ways in employment, culture, housing, and life in the community. Our organization was therefore established in 2004 to diminish these barriers and actively create connections that advance the right to full participation in all aspect of life. Eshcolot’s staff and many volunteers touch the lives of over 5,000 people a year through four program areas:

  1. Programs at the Tlamim Farm

The Farm is a strategic partner. Based at Kibbutz Megiddo, they grow and sell organic produce. In collaboration with the Farm, we initiated and manage three programs for people with IDDs:

  1. Support for 150 people with IIDs - known as Haverim (friends/members) - who work at the farm

  2. The Farm Visitors’ Center, where Haverim host visits from groups from the general population

  3. The Farm Gift Shop, where our Haverim sell products made by them and their peers

  1. Nature Programs

  1. Shared walking trips on Israel’s National Trail.

  2. Nature outings for individuals with severe disabilities

  3. Shared participation in a 5km (3 mile) outdoor run

  1. Art and Craft Programs

  1. A traveling photo exhibition in galleries, and Black Theater performances around the country

  2. Participation in Art and Craft Bazaars selling products made by people in our programs

  1. Recreation Park for people using wheelchairs, near Tiberias

Farm Visitors’ Center: Due to its success, and our desire to implement innovative approaches, we have embarked on a significant upgrade and expansion to the Visitors’ Center at the Farm. By June 2022, we have already welcomed 500 visitors from 10 groups with ages ranging from 3 to 90. We expact 1000 to visit by year’s end. The Haverim explain to visitors what the life of a person with intellectual and developmental disability is like and guide the visitors around the farm. Visitors are shown the work of the Haverim in the vegetable garden, the stable and the pen.

Central to a visit at the farm is an experience, led by our Haverim, at our long-standing Animal Corner. We are now creating sizeable new living spaces for animals. This will enable natural opportunities to interact with the larger animals, that will roam freely in those space, and the smaller animals which have unique enclosures. The caregivers (Haverim) and visitors make direct contact with the animals, where each ‘party’ has choice about whether to pet/be petted or otherwise interact. The impact of animal therapy is well documented; our innovative approach will contribute to the field in Israel. Our Haverim benefit enormously from having responsibility for and interacting with animals and from leading and interacting with groups from regular society - from a position of strength. Members of visiting groups report having life-changing experiences with us; they return to their communities as ambassadors for integration.

The expansion of our Visitors’ Center and Animal Corner will provide these opportunities for an additional 30 Haverim. Through them, we will create more transformational experiences for people who otherwise come into little contact with people with IDDs. The expanded center will also benefit youth at risk who currently come to us once a week as part of a program that helps them avoid being placed in youth prisons. They currently benefit from horse-riding therapy at the Farm Center. Once the new Animal Corner is open, they will benefit from that therapy also.

In addition to these expanded impacts, the new Farm Visitors’ Center and Animal Corner will include:

  • A Vocational and Life-Skill Training Program: This program will help Haverim seeking employment integration opportunities. Through training and reflection, we will help them leverage their work at the Farm and Visitors’ Center to further cultivate the tools of responsibility, independence, technical functioning, and customer-facing work.

  • A National Learning Center training in animal-assisted therapy skills for students of social work and related disciplines. Oranim College has already contracted with us to deliver this program; we are in discussion with others.