| On your Mark |

Meet Zara Newman

Zara Newman created a hub to support and provide community to frum women with special needs who've aged out of education programs.

The Vision

I run the post-16 seminary and college division of Aim Habonim, a special needs school in Manchester, England. Our program services frum young women, ages 18 to 25 — but at 25, our students transition from Education into Social Care. And then what?

We couldn’t just say, “Bye, it’s been lovely, have a nice life!” and so we asked ourselves, What next? The answer? A charity for differently abled young women, called BC Community. We envisioned a hub that offers further independent living skills, support, learning, vocational training, and general support services to enhance members’ life opportunities.

Together with Yehudis Stern, who has been involved in education for 30 years, that’s just what we created. We want to create a meaningful future and sense of belonging for our members with different abilities in a culturally appropriate environment that helps our members transform potential into success. We promote independence for our members and we offer them support services, advocacy, training, and — most important — employment.

We run training courses, such as Computers and Culinary Skills, all to support independence, improve the women’s skill sets, and widen their future opportunities.

At the heart of all of the training we provide are employment opportunities. Because each member possesses unique circumstances, and each has different physical and emotional abilities, we seek different employment opportunities for each. As a qualified career coach, I work with our members to help them find opportunities tailored to their strengths. And when we do, it can change their lives. As one member told us, “BC Community lights up my life and adds sunshine to my day. Thanks for helping me find a job. It saved me!”

We try to place members in existing jobs in the community — for example, we were able to match one woman with the childcare position she hoped for — but the dream (we have a lot of them!) is to create our own in-house enterprise zone with different work placements. And that’s how the gift shop began.

The Shop

It’s a little gift shop, the sort of place you could pop into if your sister-in-law just gave birth or you’re going away for Shabbos and need a hostess gift. But step inside and you’ll see much more than pretty trinkets. The Gift Shop is a charity gift shop with a homey, warm atmosphere, where community members can donate items like unused gifts to be sold. Once inside, you meet and interact with the BC Community members who run the Gift Shop and even make some of the products.

Our members package the gifts for the shop and set up the store’s displays. This past Chanukah, we created a product: exclusive plaster paint sets. The women loved packaging the paint sets, and took great pride in their product. All of the packages sold out, which inspired us to expand the range of plaster sets for all year round, including for gifts, parties, and bas mitzvahs. We are constantly looking for new products to make and sell. One woman who works in the gift shop suggested that we produce hostess packages for community simchahs. We’re taking that idea forward and hope to make it a reality.

Currently, the shop is growing organically, staffed by several BC members who work alongside volunteers. Our goal is that it will one day be operated full-time by members.

The Numbers

We don’t look at our work as about the numbers: Manchester’s entire Jewish community only consists of about 25,000 people. Nothing we do will be huge or on a grand scale. For us, it’s all about the individuals whose lives we improve.

And when we see the impact we have, we know it was all worthwhile. As one of the mothers summed it up: “It’s about giving our daughter more in life than she’s ever had before. It allows her to dream about her future.”

My go-to motivational song: 

Benny Friedman’s

“Lo Lefached”

Perek of Tehillim on  my lips: 

Mizmor l’todah, perek 100: A close friend shared with me during Covid, when her husband was seriously ill, how we always have so much to thank Hashem for.

Book on my nightstand currently?

The Story of Rebbetzin Henny Machlis, which I find incredibly inspiring, and The Choice, by Dr. Edith Eva Eger, which grants a wonderful perspective on how to handle life’s challenges.

Always in my pocketbook:

My reading glasses. (I’m at that stage!)


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 892)

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