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Honors students build Mardi Gras platforms for children

Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, February 27, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 27, 2014 15:02

DJ SEVERAN/Staff Photographer

DJ SEVERAN/Staff Photographer

A child and his mother use the Mardi Gras platforms in front of Touro Synagogue at a Mardi Gras parade on Saturday, Feb. 22. Loyola students helped build the platforms as a Mardi Gras service project.

A local Jewish synagogue asked Loyola honors students to build parade stands and entertain disabled children and their families for Mardi Gras parades.

Touro Synagogue, located on 4238 St. Charles Ave., started a tradition five years ago of providing wheelchair-using children the opportunity to see Mardi Gras parades with the utmost comfort. The synagogue sought help from its members and other people in the community.

Director of the University Honors Program Naomi Yavneh, who is a member of Touro Synagogue, said this tradition was created to give disabled children the chance to experience a Mardi Gras parade for the first time.

“The idea was that we have children living in this city who have special needs, especially physical needs, and who have never been able to attend a parade,” Yavneh said. “It seemed like a great thing to do.”

Yavneh said Loyola students started volunteering with the synagogue in 2013 after she received an email about the service from the synagogue.Yavneh said about four or five Loyola students helped the synagogue with constructing parade stands in 2013.

Chad Landrum, A’13, said he helped to set up a viewing platform with synagogue members in January 2013. Landrum said he enjoyed his work there, because he wanted to give back.

“I really like the work they do and love giving back to my community, which has supported me in so many ways,” Landrum said.

Landrum said he also had a special connection with helping out because his aunt is mentally disabled.

“I know she would have loved to have such an opportunity if she could,” Landrum said. “She loves Mardi Gras beads.”

Hal Shepard, a member of Touro Synagogue, said children have increasingly been coming to the synagogue for the parades every year.

“We’ve been inviting children for the last four years and this year we’re, from what I understand, almost sold out again,” Shepard said.

Yavneh said Touro Synagogue’s location, with its doors facing St. Charles Avenue and its steps going down the façade of the synagogue, provided a convenient place to build wheelchair accessible raisers and enable the children to be near available restrooms.

Shepard said the synagogue could accommodate any combination of 10 child wheelchair users or 20 child non-wheelchair users.

“What we ask is, with each child in the viewing stand, they have one family member with them who is aware of their restrictions and can also help them catch beads and maneuver and everything else,” Shepard said.

Yavneh said students and other volunteers would be entertaining or chaperoning on Saturday, Feb. 22, Wednesday, Feb. 26, Thursday, Feb. 27 and Saturday, March 1.

Shepard said the synagogue has in the past hired clowns and musicians to entertain the kids during breaks in the parade. He also said they were able to get the Saints’ mascot to interact with the children.

“Last year we had the Saints’ Gumbo and the kids really got a kick out of that,” Shepard said.

Landrum said working with Touro Synagogue made him remember the importance of volunteering.

“I think my work had some impact, as minor as it might have been,” Landrum said. “It definitely mattered to me.”

Yavneh said she believes the volunteers are not only helping out the children that attend but are also helping in making New Orleans a better place for them.

“As people who live in New Orleans, it’s really our responsibility to work to make New Orleans a better place,” Yavneh said.

Burke Bischoff may be reached at bwbischo@loyno.edu 

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