Even before she gave birth to her daughter, Rozie, four years ago, Sheva Givre was a blogger.
“But nobody read my blog because it really wasn’t interesting,” she said. Then, when Rozie was born with Down syndrome, Givre made the choice “to be open and honest about raising children with special needs from Day One. I wanted to change the face of special needs parenting.”
Givre, a mother of three from Baltimore, spoke with a determined and powerful voice before 15 people on July 3 in a conference room at the Friendship Circle of MetroWest headquarters in Livingston. Like most people present, she is a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic movement.
They were among 100 people from eight states who attended a two-day conference on addressing the challenges of children, families, experts, and teenage volunteers touched by those with special needs.
“They came to share ideas and network about what works and what doesn’t,” said Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, director of the Friendship Circle.
For Givre, what works is advocacy for those with cognitive and physical disabilities.
“When Rozie was born, the doctors told me within minutes she had Down syndrome, and my husband and I decided right there we had two choices,” she recalled. “We were going to feel really bad for ourselves and cry a lot, or we were going to jump into this situation feet first.”
They chose the second path. “I became an advocate,” she said.
She now seeks inclusion for Rozie and children like her in pre-schools, schools, and other activities.
“Our kids are people first and special needs second,” she said. “Most important, our kids need friends, not just servants.”
Rozie is the only student with special needs in her Lubavitch pre-school, “but the kids see her as Rozie with blonde hair, not Rozie with Down syndrome.”
She said it has only been over the last 15 years “that we have started acknowledging that people with special needs are productive members of society and are contributing and have something to offer.”
Asked about her dream for Rozie’s future, Givre said, “My goal is she will make it through the entire day school system, to go to seminary, and to get married.”
She said, however, that many Jewish day schools have failed to implement special efforts on behalf of students with special needs. “There are special needs kids in day schools who sit in the back of the class and learn nothing, even though they are in a Jewish environment,” she said, calling for a “major revamp of what the Jewish day schools need to do.”