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A Life Saved, A Family Healed

“Carol’s” parents are divorced. Her father remarried and moved across the country; however, he and his new wife, Carol’s step-mother, are very loving, involved and “hands on” parents who always look forward to and welcome Carol’s summer and school vacation visits. Carol lives with her mother, a Project Ezrah client.

Carol, a  beautiful, self possessed and friendly young woman is in the middle of her junior year in college. She studies hard and, with excellent grades, hopes to apply for a Masters in Social Work after graduation. She also holds down a part time job to help out her family financially and to earn her own spending money. Carol’s family is proud of her and of her achievements and is very supportive of her goals. But it was not always this way…

When Carol was in elementary school, school administrators suggested that she might have some learning differences. By junior high, there were many behavioral issues, compounded with failing grades. At home, Carol refused to listen to or to adhere to guidance, suggestions, limits or house rules, and had  started to go out nights and weekends with an older, undesirable group of children. The mother-daughter relationship was severely strained and finally, when Carol refused to go to school, her mother turned to Project Ezrah with a cry for help. Project Ezrah arranged for Carol alone and for the mother-daughter team to work with a therapist. Unfortunately, Carol refused to work through any issues with the therapist and continued on a downward spiral. By mid-year, her Yeshiva questioned whether they would accept her for the last year of junior high school but felt sure that high school attendance would be out of the question. Project Ezrah began working with the school and Carol’s parents, hoping to find a solution that would benefit Carol in the long run.

Carol left to visit her father and step-mother for Yeshiva break. While there, she “announced” that she would not go back to Teaneck, wanted to live with her father and go to a local school. Parents, therapists and Project Ezrah thought this might give Carol a fresh start; all were hoping for a positive turn of events.

Carol started in her new school and seemed to be adjusting. She helped her step-mother around the house and was building up good relationships with her step-brothers. Project Ezrah kept in close contact with the father and step-mother in order to monitor Carol’s progress. After only a month, the troublesome behavior patterns returned and soon escalated. Carol was rude and disrespectful to her step-mother, behaved in a way that put her younger step-siblings at risk and again refused to go to school.

Project Ezrah’s counselors suggested that Carol might benefit from a therapeutic school, a boarding school that specialized in addressing issues specifically for teens at risk. However, these schools were extraordinarily costly and, financially, was not an option. All those concerned about Carol continued to work together, striving for a solution to, literally, save this girl’s life.

A few days before Pesach, just before midnight, one of Project Ezrah’s counselors received a frantic call from Carols step-mother; Carol was now involved in a gang and, wanting to have even more freedom, had threatened the family and the step-mother feared for the safety of her family. The Project Ezrah counselor’s first instinct was to get Carol far away from the gang and arranged for Carol to be escorted and placed on the next flight back to the East Coast.

Now the hard work began. Though Carol was resistant, Project Ezrah arranged for daily therapy sessions. In the meantime, the concept of a therapeutic school was readdressed. Project Ezrah contacted Bergen County’s Special Services, stressing that this child’s life was in danger and action needed to be taken immediately; however, they were not forthcoming. Hoping for answers, Project Ezrah contacted a New Jersey lawyer who specialized in children’s Special Services. Her advice was to seek the needed services from the father’s state, known to be more accommodating in these matters.

Across the miles, Project Ezrah worked with Special Services in the father’s state and worked with the child advocates and local authorities  and attended the court hearings who would decide on Carol’s fate.

The court awarded Carol’s family full tuition for 4 years in a highly respected therapeutic boarding school, (Project Ezrah could not have afforded or responsibly paid for the $100,000 annual tuition.)

Though at first resistant, Carol thrived. There were many, many fallbacks, but those were followed with learning and more understanding. Project Ezrah kept in close contact with the school and learned of her progress: Carol made friends, she took on responsibilities, she studied and her grades soared, and with school therapists, she worked on her relationships with her parents. Project Ezrah made sure that there would be a supply of kosher food, candles for Chanukah, M’shloach Manot for Purim, matzah and kosher l’Pesach food. Though she was the only child in the school from an observant Jewish family, Carol began to appreciate and treasure these bits of Jewish life that she had in her rebelliousness, thrown away. She even started sharing with the other Jewish children, teaching them and answering questions.

In her junior year, her third year at the school, Carol asked to take an SAT preparation course. She studied, did extremely well and was able to apply to colleges. In her senior year, after being at the school for 4 years, Carol graduated from the program, graduated high school and was accepted into a state college.

Most importantly, Carol regained her parents’ trust and respect. The family now enjoys a warm, loving relationship with a child they thought they had lost.