JCC programs aid mentally disabled

Julie Fishbach

The Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in East Hills has four programs through its Adult Day Services initiative to provide service and support for more than 130 North Shore residents suffering from degenerative mental illnesses.

There’s the Lets Do Lunch, where patients retain cognitive abilities through group activities and discussion, two programs called Group for Education and Memory Strengthening (G.E.M.S) and a another called Friendship Circle in which patients participate in support groups, mental and physical exercises and even social worker-led dog therapy.

“Many members walk in unhappy and our goal is to have them leave with a smile on their face, ” said Taylor Herbert, the JCC’s director of specializd senior services.

The G.E.M.S I program runs four times a year for 11 weeks, while G.E.M.S II, Lets Do Lunch and the Friendship circle meet each weekday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Herbert said each program requires a small registration fee but said no patient is turned away for financial reasons. Scholarships for each program are also available. 

The Adult Day Services programs receive funding from Nassau County and New York state as well as from private donations and JCC fundraising efforts.


G.E.M.S I and II

G.E.M.S I groups consist of 12 patients each semester who are in the early stages of living with their disorders and have been deemed aware of their diagnosis. 

Herbert said group members participate in morning support groups to discuss challenges they face with their illnesses and later engage in an exercise program comprised of karate, light weightlifting and balancing techniques. 

Patients with memory loss also undergo cognitive exercises to recall names, numbers and word association.

Herbert said G.E.M.S II assists patients suffering from memory or functional impairment but are not fully aware of their diagnosis.

Those patients, Herbert said, tend to suffer from Parkinson’s disease or stroke and do not fit into a program with patients suffering from dementia.

Some members progress into G.E.M.S II or are placed directly into the program.


Friendship Circle

The Friendship Circle began in 1997 with three patients under the care of Connie Wasserman, now the JCC’s associate executive director.

As the program progressed, Herbert said different needs were identified to treat adults who have memory or functional impairment.

Herbert said patients of the Friendship Circle program engage in cognitive and physical stimulation through a rotation of thirty-minute activities.

While the activities change daily, Herbert said the program’s structure does not, providing a safe environment for patients to have fun.

Members of the Friendship Circle hold current events discussions, listen to music and participate in numerous physical activities, including basketball, karate and yoga.

Each week, the group’s members are also visited by the JCC’s therapy dog, Cooper.

Cooper was certified as a therapy dog through The Good Dog Foundation, a charitable organization based of out of New York City that promotes the use of animal-assisted therapy.

“A major goal of all four programs is to have adults talking and socializing all day,” Herbert said. “Cooper gives them something to talk about and opens them up to discussion. Petting him also helps with motor skills.”

Let’s Do Lunch

Herbert said the Let’s Do Lunch program is the only one of its kind in the country to assist patients in their 30s, 40s and 50s suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

She also said that the majority in this group are experiencing frontotemporal dementia causing struggles with language and sensory motor skills.

“We love it, we want to come every day,” said Jerome Mangano, 58, a member of Lets do Lunch.

Members of the Let’s Do Lunch program also interact with Cooper.

“I love the dog. That’s my favorite part,” said patient William Brennen, 69.

Herbert said a program similar to Roslyn’s is planned for the Suffolk JCC this fall.

About the author

Julie Fishbach

Share this Article