fbpx

Neurodiversity of Kindness

The April 7 variety show, featuring performances by teens and adults, highlighted the talents of neurodivergent individuals across the arts.
[additional-authors]
April 10, 2024
“Spectrum Lab” Actor/ventriloquist Dominque Brown and Kid Wonder, perform it’s a wonderful wonderful world with dancer Brad Bracy.

April is Autism Awareness, Acceptance and Action Month. To celebrate, Vista House of Lovingkindness: Beit Chesed, which is part of Vista del Mar Child & Family Services, presented the “Neurodiversity of Kindness.” 

Vista CEO Lena Wilson hugs Rabbi Jackie Redner.

The April 7 variety show, featuring performances by teens and adults, highlighted the talents of neurodivergent individuals across the arts. It also served as a community-builder, bringing together people from Vista del Mar, along with friends, neighbors and other organizations. “Vista House of Lovingkindness: Beit Chesed is a community that is designed to uplift families and children with autism and other special needs,” Rabbi Jackie Redner, who oversees the program and has served as Vista Del Mar’s Rabbi in Residence for the last 17 years, told the Journal. “We welcome individuals and families from all walks of Jewish life.” 

She added, “The LGBTQ+ community, the disability community, Jews of color, Jewish beginners and seekers, the neurodivergent, the neurotypical, the lonely, the alienated, the curious, the open hearted and friends from all backgrounds all are welcome in our house of lovingkindness.”

“Straight up Abilities” dancers Nikita Wang and Gaby Alcazar rehearse “Rise up” before show.

The event, at the Glorya Kaufman Performing Arts Center Stage, featured stories of kindness told through music, dance, film and silent presence (by some of their non-verbal students). Select stories from the book “Rings of Kindness” by Matthew J. Goldberg were also part of the show. 

The program was the brainchild of Harri James-O’Kelley of The O’Kelley Lab — who has a story in the book — in partnership with Rabbi Redner. “The book is all about kindness, and our family has gotten so much from working with Rabbi Jackie and her program,” James-O’Kelley, whose three children are considered 2e (gifted with disabilities or learning differences), told the Journal. Redner performed all three b’nai mitzvahs through Vista’s program, Nes Gadol. 

“We’re the poster child family,” said James-O’Kelley, whose kids are now in their late teens. “We literally came into this program when we were in crisis and have thrived in her community.”

Storyteller Ali Wolf with son Adam and Wendy Hammers.

James-O’Kelley had this project in mind for a while. “I wanted to connect the Jewishness and the kindness, with Rabbi Jackie’s amazing spirit,” she said. “She sees the goodness in people and nurtures it.”

She saw so much talent in the neurodivergent community, she wanted to find them a stage, which she did. And then developed beautiful collaborations between diverse nonprofits in the arts.

For instance, USC’s Glorya Kaufman Performing Arts Center worked with a dancer from Ballet for all Kids and the O’Kelley Lab. There was also a collaboration with Spectrum Lab’s multitalented Domonique Brown. “We made a documentary with the Spectrum Laboratory kids, which we showed during Neurodiversity of Kindness,” James-O’Kelley said. 

It then morphed into a performance with Brown, a ventriloquist, and his puppet, Kid Wonder, on stage with Brad Bracy doing a soft shoe. “Rabbi Jackie helped shine a light on my kids, and it gave them so much confidence and joy,” she said. “What a blessing to do that for other people.”

The show also included Vista’s popular choir, made up of residents of Vista Del Mar (many of whom are children/teens abused, abandoned, in foster and adoptive care, some living with autism), as well as artwork from residents and community partners. 

The show also included Vista’s popular choir, made up of residents of Vista Del Mar (many of whom are children/teens abused, abandoned, in foster and adoptive care, some living with autism), as well as artwork from residents and community partners. “Rabbi Jackie continues to touch so many lives with her kindness,” James-O’Kelley said. “It has been an absolute gift to get to do this project with her.” 

Established over 100 years ago as the Jewish Orphan’s Home of Southern California, through its myriad of specialized programs, Vista Del Mar provides a trauma-responsive continuum of services to more than 5,000 children and families in crisis annually from all faiths.   

Redner hopes people see Vista del Mar as an oasis and a refuge, “a place of kindness, a place of love and support and a place that for over 100 years has worked to lift up humanity,” she said. “[This event was a celebration] of the community through Vista House of Lovingkindness, through Vista del Mar and the generosity of Glorya Kaufman who gifted us with this incredible theater that we [used].”

Lena Wilson, CEO/President of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services,  added: “Vista Del Mar, with its long history of showing compassion and providing trauma informed care  to the most vulnerable children and families in our communities, whispers a gentle reminder: Kindness flows infinitely in the service to others touching every heart along its path.”

To learn more go to vistadelmar.org/about/vista-house-of-lovingkindness.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

The New Reality of What Is Genocide

The term has now been co-opted to describe any number of events including threatened cultures, ethnic strife, racial imbalance, civil war, rebellion, and religious conflicts. 

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.