To the Melville Jewish Center community:
We are writing to express our gratitude for all that was done over the last year to help Charleigh become a Bat Mitzvah. The generosity, patience, and love that our family received from the extraordinary members of your community was so immeasurable that a simple “thank you” cannot adequately communicate our appreciation. In an effort to help you understand how momentous this occasion was for our family, please let us share Charleigh’s story… At a very early age, it was clear that Charleigh Mae Caiet would be a loving, intelligent, strong-willed, beautiful, and often sassy human being. It was also evident at around the age of 2, that she was struggling to communicate with those around her. Her speech was not developing at the typical rate, she got easily frustrated when trying to communicate her needs, and she preferred to play alone. At her 2 year old checkup, we discussed our observations with the doctor who suggested Early Intervention services. That phone call to inquire about services was the first step of the Autism journey that our family has been on for the last 11 years. The road that a special needs family travels is not the one that it originally expected. However, that trajectory put us on the path to meeting Cheryl Haiken… Cheryl’s first role in our family was that of BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst). As we got to know her on a professional level, we quickly learned that she was not only keenly adept at her job, but also an incredibly kind, personable, and warm person. When Cheryl learned that our family is Jewish, she asked if we would like to participate in a pilot program that assisted young adults with special needs in becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Until that point, we had not expected that there could be a pathway for Charleigh to participate in this important rite of passage. With Cheryl’s positive attitude, encouragement, guidance, and insistence that “Charleigh can do hard things,” we happily accepted the generous offer. Very early in the journey, we met with Rabbi Orrin who could not have been more supportive of this endeavor. He invited us into his office to discuss the plan and to make us feel welcome in the community. He allowed Charleigh to type on his computer and strum his guitar which made her feel comfortable and accepted – an obvious hallmark of the Melville Jewish Center. Soon after that first meeting, Charleigh began her studies. When we first met Morah Lisa, it was clear that she had a very strong background in teaching and was incredibly patient. Nevertheless, we were unsure if Charleigh would attend to the lessons that would help her learn to speak, sing, and chant in Hebrew. Morah Lisa recognized that we would need to identify how Charleigh learns and approach studying with those factors in mind. Sessions were kept short and very focused so that she would not become overwhelmed. However, once we found a groove, Charleigh soared! As the date of the Bat Mitzvah grew closer, we all worked together to create the conditions and an environment wherein Charleigh would feel comfortable and be successful in her delivery…and successful she was! With the help of every single member of the community, an event we did not think was possible manifested into reality. Words cannot describe the pride we felt when we watched our daughter recite the blessings and Torah reading before the congregation and with glowing confidence. That moment in our lives was made possible by all of the special people at Melville Jewish Center and for that, we will forever be grateful. We would like to close by expressing our heartfelt thanks once more. Thank you for lovingly supporting us and Charleigh throughout her journey toward becoming a Bat Mitzvah. It is a day that our family will always remember.
Donna and Derek Caiet