A corner of inspiration, imagination, and idealism
Sunny, clear blue skies, droplets of pool water spraying in the air, licks from a sticky raspberry ice pop — can’t you feel that delicious taste of summer? And let’s not forget to mention those fun-filled days in camp, from early morning swims to late night DMCs!
There are some teens out there who face unique challenges that prevent them from just chilling out and forgetting about it all over the summer months. For a teen with a special-needs sibling, vacation time might just mean more time with that sibling home (unless they’re going to one of the amazing camps that are catered for them). That often means these teens have additional responsibilities during these long, hot days.
These young adults often have a sense of maturity and sensitivity way above the average teen, yet it’s still not easy dealing with the many challenging scenarios that may arise, along with the emotions involved. Most teens enjoy sharing their problems and coming to solutions together, but where do these teens turn to? To a fellow teen? How can she relate to such unique challenges that she may not be privy to?
Enter — Sisters Corner!
Elisheva M., a high school student from Detroit, is also a sibling to a younger brother with special needs. He’s a sweet boy yet delayed in many areas, and displays many behaviors that are similar to autism. His cheerful and friendly demeanor definitely win people over, but his behavior is quite a handful. Elisheva always felt that there must be others who face similar situations and could use support. “That became the seed that would eventually grow into Sisters Corner, a place for siblings of kids with special needs to unite and encourage each other,” explains Elisheva.
Elisheva has a good friend who also has a sibling with special needs. She also thought it was a good idea to do something to benefit other teens in similar situations, and she played a vital part in getting Sisters Corner off the ground.
During corona lockdown, when everybody was home — including those special sibs — Elisheva and her friend realized that they had to actualize their dream, pronto. “We tossed around different ideas,” says Elisheva, “but nothing very practical emerged until a few months later, when I finally came up with the idea of creating a hotline and newsletter for this very special population of teens.” Her friend agreed that this was a fantastic idea and helped Elisheva plan, brainstorm, advertise, and get it off the ground.
In the beginning there was a small group of participants, yet it quickly blossomed into a group of about 150 participants from around the world, including America, Canada, Eretz Yisrael, and England, and many more locations.
This phone hotline offers a rich menu of options geared to inspire, encourage, and give chizuk to the listeners.
Here’s some of what the Sisters Corner Hotline has to offer:
Option 1: Updates and General Information. Choose this option to hear the weekly updates, events, and important announcements.
Option 2: Girls Like You! Like the title implies, this selection includes messages from one teen to another, such as cute anecdotes, questions for others, and tips. You can choose to hear the most recent message or leave your own. You also have the choice of listening to the most popular messages from the recent year. Sibs can share tried and true solutions and feel free to ask whatever they want. A safe place to be you —amazing!
Option 3: Music! Definitely a medium which all teens can relate to. This selection features the Sisters Corner theme song plus many other catchy songs and songs with comforting lyrics for listener’s entertainment. The team at Sisters Corner carefully chooses appropriate contributions which come from both Sisters Corner participants as well as other women and girls who write songs of chizuk.
Option 4: Personal Experiences. These heartfelt words told by teens on the ground is guaranteed to provide validation and understanding. It’s a surefire way to encourage and to feel comforted and know you’re not alone.
Option 5: Words of Chizuk: One of the staff members periodically loads a recording with special words of chizuk to boost the listeners with positive and uplifting messages. You have the option of listening to previous messages too.
Option 6: Live Chizuk. On this selection one can hear the recordings of various live chizuk conferences.
Option 7: Serial Story. This is based on books, chapter by chapter, that are written about individuals with special needs. Much thought is given to choosing a story that will provide inspiration to the listeners.
Option 8: Living Emunah. This is probably the most powerful selection, as without emunah, the knowledge that everything is from Hashem, where would any of us be? This option includes powerful lessons based on the popular sefer by Rabbi David Ashear.
Twice a year, the hotline runs live chagigahs. Not in person, but live together on the line. These take place on Chanukah and Purim. “We advertise the chagigahs through the updates on the hotline or through the catchy advertisements in the monthly newsletters. For each of these occasions a special theme is chosen. The program includes a guest speaker, or a panel, to discuss the chosen topic. The program concludes with a stimulating activity, like a game or comedy skit,” explains Elisheva.
Elisheva makes running the hotline sound like an easy venture, but it takes a lot of time. She has to provide constant maintenance, such as audio-editing and finding the right material. Her friend (who prefers to remain anonymous) helps her in many ways. For example, she helps organize the different chagigahs and conferences, creates content for the newsletters, and contacts speakers.
When I ask Elisheva for the secret to her success, she answers in one word: Feedback. Her enthusiasm grows when she receives heartwarming messages from her participants. Maybe it’s a song that touched them just when they were going through an especially challenging situation or they’re super excited with the latest newsletter. “All these positive messages provide fresh strength for me to keep this project going,” says Elisheva.
The newsletter is no simple leaflet. It’s a 16-page production chock full of inspiration and entertainment.
First off, it’s dotted with small notes of chizuk throughout. When I ask Elisheva for an example, she reads this beautiful quote: “A world without needs is a world without kindness. In a perfect world, everyone will need everyone.”
There’s also a thought-provoking monthly question that the readers respond to. For example, ‘‘What do you thank Hashem for regarding your special needs sibling?”
Some of the responses:
“How can we take for granted the shmirah we get from our special needs sibling? If only we would know how special our siblings’ neshamos are and what a zechus we have to live with them!”
“My special needs brother taught me to thank Hashem for everything. I thank Hashem that I learned this valuable lesson.”
Elisheva entertains her readership with fascinating reads, such as inspirational stories and articles of interest. “I like to include interviews of all sorts, such as with directors of organizations, Sisters Corner staff members, and writers of the songs featured on the Sisters Corner hotline,” adds Elisheva. Most readers receive the newsletter via email, though some receive hard copies in the mail.
The entertainment option offers a collection of heartwarming poems, songs, and an assortment of yummy recipes.
All in all, it provides these special teens with a place to glean vital info, to be entertained, and to connect.
What’s Elisheva’s favorite part of running the hotline? When I ask her, it takes her time to answer, like a child in a toy store who can’t decide which toy to choose.
“My favorite part is knowing that I’m giving chizuk and inspiration to so many girls,” she finally decides.
All for the Best
We all have frustrating moments when it comes to any project we take on, and I ask Elisheva about her biggest challenge. “I find it difficult to manage the stress that often comes with arranging last minute details. For example, at one school event, I had to spend a lot of time trying to find a last-minute speaker when the scheduled speaker had to cancel. Baruch Hashem, in the end it all worked out — but the pressure was crazy.”
I imagine that running the hotline and newsletter would be costly, yet Elisheva maintains that the expenditures are minimal and they are supported by donations.
The operation sounds huge, yet Elisheva is able to manage the responsibilities with the help of her friends. She knows how to delegate and has a crew of dedicated staff, who not only encourage Elisheva, but also assist with recordings, brainstorming, and the overall running of Sisters Corner.
How do people hear about Sisters Corner? “Mostly by word of mouth. We also distribute fliers through different organizations and try to arrange interviews with other popular hotlines,” Elisheva explains.
About a year after the hotline’s inception, Sisters Corner Junior launched. This hotline is geared towards younger girls in elementary school. The stories and interviews are tailored for the younger girls who need chizuk for their special situations.
Elisheva is constantly on the lookout for ways to keep the hotline and newsletter filled with new ideas. For example, in her recent newsletter she writes: Challenge yourself to take on a kabbalah for a month that will help improve your relationship with your sibling with special needs and/or adds simchah to your sibling’s life. You can choose one of our examples or think of your own. Some of the suggestions are: I will compliment my sibling once a day or I will take my sibling for a walk every Shabbos.
Take it From Me
Aside from the activities of the actual organization, there are many ripple effects as well. “My appreciation for my own brother with special needs has grown considerably ever since we launched Sisters Corner,” Elisheva notes. “I also feel like I can relate to others with similar situations in a much deeper way than in the past.” She feels a special connection with other Sisters Corner members, because their shared challenge is one that only others in the same situation can understand.
Elisheva mentions a friend of hers who used to volunteer to help children with special needs. “Then, after her own sibling was born with special needs, she didn’t get around to volunteering like she used to. But when she listened to Girls Like You and Personal Experiences on the hotline, about how other girls in her situation volunteered to help children with special needs, she gained a whole new perspective and started to volunteer again.”
Tamar Levine is a tenth grader who has an older brother with autism. He’s verbal, yet very dependent on others for help.
From a young age, Tamar realized that something wasn’t quite right with her older brother. She suffered from the various challenging family dynamics that stemmed from having a child with special needs in the house and would often fight with this sibling. Her parents encouraged her to join a support group, but it wasn’t geared for her specific scenario, so it didn’t help her much. “The other group members suffered from totally different family issues so they couldn’t offer me any support,” she explains.
Last year, Tamar was introduced to Sisters Corner through a local magazine. She gave it a try and became hooked. On her daily commute to school, Tamar listens to the hotline and gets a much-needed dose of inspiration.
I ask her how it differs from her previous support groups.
“On the Sisters Corner hotline there are tons of contributors, and I can easily find someone with whom I can identify. Sharing my frustrations with somebody who really understands is a tremendous relief. Knowing other people who are going through situations like mine makes something ‘not normal’ feel more normal.”
Tamar has made a 180-degree turnaround with regard to her feelings towards her brother. She now looks at him with more appreciation, understanding, and acceptance.
When I ask what her favorite option on the hotline is, she answers, “As an artist, I go straight for the music option. And,” adds Tamar, “it’s such a pleasure to be able to call when I want, 24 hours a day. It’s there when I need it.”
Tamar adds another profound insight. “Even if I call twice a day and hear the same message again, I don’t mind, because each time I can appreciate the message differently. And sometimes I need to hear the same words of chizuk 20 times over until it sinks in.”
This special sib has more household duties, cringes when friends want to come over, and has to cope with more hardships than the average teenager, yet Sisters Corner has definitely made her life happier and more fulfilling.
If she could choose something to add to the hotline and newsletter, Tamar would love to have a real in-person chagigah take place sometime before Chanukah and after Purim. Elisheva, take note!
Sing Your Heart Out!
Before the Sisters Corner theme song was developed, the participants on the hotline had an opportunity to share thoughts and ideas for the lyrics. Many members shared insights, three girls volunteered their musical talents to write the lyrics, and another teen professionally recorded the song. All these individuals never met or spoke to each other. Talk about musical harmony on a grand scale!
Our Special Sibs
Hashem, our loving Father above
Has granted us a gift embraced in love
To cherish and teach, to guide them and show
As sisters we’re here to help them grow!
Our special sibs we embrace
As they grow at their own pace
With Sisters Corner learn to handle it with grace.
When Mashiach does arrive
To reveal Hashem’s design
With our sibs we’ll meet at the front of the line!
Together hand in hand we go through
The challenges put forth to you
Reach our goals, fulfill our dreams
Our sibs the greatest joy life can bring
My sib grows and I see
Growth is blossoming in me
Forming a new vision of what I can be.
Let Him carry you through
‘Cuz He knows what’s best for you
Wherever life takes you Hashem’s there too.
So let’s all sing along
To the Sisters Corner Song
With love and simchah we can never go wrong.
Now we’ve opened up our eyes
It’s a brachah in disguise
Join the Sisters Corner song and harmonize!
Sisters Corner can be reached through Teen Pages.
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 918)
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