Center To Teach Life Skills To Children


by Eileen McCarville - WEST BLOOMFIELD, MICHIGAN

April 7, 2005

A new facility for special needs children is also a dream-come-true

for their parents and friends.

A decade in the making, the new Ferber Kaufman LifeTown Building offers real-life, hands-on situations for children of all levels.

"It's a dream I never thought would happen," said Bassie Shemtov, 32,

who, with her husband Rabbi Levi Shemtov, brainstormed the idea 10

years ago. The 20,000-square-foot $4.5 million facility nestled on six

acres of woodlands will house a therapy and activity center, social

meeting place, and a hub for volunteers, professional staff and

supporters.

The grand opening dinner is April 5 at the Meer Family Friendship

Center, 6890 West Maple in West Bloomfield, and the facility will open

to the public when children return to school in September.

LifeTown is designed to enhance The Friendship Circle, a program that

enables teenage volunteers to spend time with special needs children,

founded in 1994 by Lubavitch Foundation of Michigan.

The facility was funded entirely by individual and corporate donations.

"This is the model for the first in the world," Shemtov said.

The most striking feature is Life Village, an interactive area on the

first floor that emulates a real town with a bank, drug store,

library, workshop, medical office, pet store, movie theater and more.

Children will learn real-life skills like opening and managing bank

accounts, following stop signs and traffic lights, making appointments

for haircuts and turning in library books on time. And just like life,

those who don't return books on time will have to pay a fine.

Children will also be able to tool around the village in battery

operated cars, parking at spots with working parking meters that

demand change.

It's all designed to teach special needs children about responsibility

and living in the real world.

"They're going to learn how to be quiet in the library. They're going

to learn how to cross the street. They're going to learn how to get a

haircut," said Shemtov, of West Bloomfield. For example, at the pet

store, they can buy goldfish and learn to take care of them, she

added.

Sponsors include Henry Ford Medical Centers, Huntington Bank and

Sav-On Drugs, which have signs hanging above the storefronts. The

first floor also includes a large gymnasium, which can double as a

party room, and a live tree that stretches through an opening to the

second floor.

The second floor Therapy Center features a dozen rooms designed for

learning skills such as cooking, computers, art, music and developing

coordination.

A water room, for example, features a variety of different

showerheads, designed to soothe, stimulate and entertain children.

Observation windows at each room allow parents to see in - but don't

let children to see out and become distracted, Shemtov said.

One of the most innovative features is the "Snoezelen Room," a concept

developed in the Netherlands.

The room is filled with sights, sounds, textures, and aromas that can

stimulate or relax and children as they explore.

As future users tested areas last week, Cathy Fogel of West Bloomfield

was having a hard time getting her daughter Rebecca, 8, to leave the

Snoezelen Room.

Rebecca and her teenage volunteer friend Shoshannah Newman, 15, were

nestled in a corner, watching the fascinating array of neon colors.

"This is her first time here and she's very excited," Fogel said.

"This is amazing."

Once the facility opens, programs, classes, membership fees and other

areas will be established. It will be available to anyone with special

needs children.

For more information, visit friendshipcircle.org or lifetown.org or

call (248) 788-7878.

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