H.A.L.O Dispels Isolation And Embraces The Whole Family

Since the inception of its Family Circle program in 1999, H.A.L.O. has utilized the professional expertise of
Boston’s Jewish Family & Children’s Services to embrace families who are caring at home for children with complex disabilities.
Music therapist Claudia Eliza

H.A.L.O.’s Sunday Swim and Sing program has been the most welcomed and enduring activity. Since 2006 it has provided social and exercise programming to participants aged 6 to 35 who are socially isolated due to physical and communication challenges.

Music therapist Claudia Eliza elicits smiles as she rumbas with her bongos, guitar or tambourine in a room at the Jewish Community Center in Newton MA. Her magical voice engages 12 young people in call and response songs while their 12 professional buddies help them keep time with percussion instruments.

After a snack, most participants – even those in wheelchairs –enjoy an hour in the heated, accessible pool with their partners.

“This is the best three hours of my week,” says one social worker, who spends her days focused on other people’s problems. “It’s uplifting. We all look forward to it.”

JF&CS also operates the Sunday Swim and Sing in Stoughton MA under the Family Circle umbrella. H.A.L.O. programs are non-denominational and focused primarily on individuals with severe neurological impairment. Newton serves 15 families, 30 Sundays a year. Stoughton hosts 8 to 10 families on 20 Sundays.

“The Sunday program has been great, especially the one-on-one attention, says Linda G., mother of Jess, 34. “For kids who are as low functioning as my daughter there are not a lot of things appropriate for her to do. Jess is isolated from people her own age, so it’s nice that she gets to interact with others.”

Ralph V.’s 12-year-old son Jake is on the autism spectrum and needs close attention on a regular basis. “He can’t do things typically developing children do, so he is challenged socially and doesn't have a circle of friends. It’s nice to see him engaged with the music, doing what makes him happy.”

Sue V., Jake’s mom, also praises the highly-qualified professional staff, who are mostly master’s degree candidates in psychology, special education, physical therapy or similar fields. “Jake’s partners develop a relationship with him over the course of the year and really know how to interact with him.”

“We duplicated the program in Stoughton because the need on the South Shore was so large, and some families were traveling over an hour to Newton,” said Sara Freedman, Director of JFCS community Programs and Services for People with Disabilities. State budget cuts have reduced the number of available alternatives, so there is little attrition in either program and the wait list is long, she said. It takes weeks for partners to establish a trusting relationship, especially with non-verbal young people, so alternating attendance or substitutions during absences doesn't work well.

JF&CS offers a “Family Swim and Sing” in Stoughton once a month so that families on the waiting list have at least one activity with their child.

“H.A.L.O.’ Swim & Sing Program serves one of the most vulnerable populations, people with severe disabilities,” according to Doreen Cummings, JF&CS Director of Program Development. “H.A.L.O.’s continued and generous support provides this under-served population with vital access to the community and enriches their quality of life.”