The Chabad of Merrick-Bellmore-Wantagh ended 2022 with a bang, raising more than $450,000 in just two days in an online campaign to benefit many of the programs it operates.
The Chabad runs a highly regarded preschool, a Hebrew school, and a summer camp at its Hewlett Avenue location in Merrick. The Chabad, through the Cindy Knoll Circle of Hope, also assists individuals and families impacted by breast cancer and other illnesses, provides food to those in need, and offers several other programs.
It is a nonprofit that is solely responsible for its own budget, Chabad officials said.
Rabbi Shimon Kramer, who oversees the Chabad with his wife, Chanie, said typically, they end the year with a large fundraiser that generally benefits the three educational programs, the kosher food bank and Circle of Hope.
In the past two years, the Chabad added an extra component to the campaign — raising money for the expansion of its preschool. The first fundraiser last January drew more than $500,000 to help jumpstart its visions for the space.
The preschool’s administrators want to adopt the Reggio Emilia approach, an Italian philosophy that encourages learning in a non-traditional environment.
“We want it to look beautiful — we want it to be outstanding in every way,” Chanie Kramer said. “We want to make it a special place for kids to be able to learn in an optimal environment.”
Shimon Kramer said Chabad’s current classrooms were built with a traditional concept in mind, and the newer rooms will have added touches. The expansion will be internal and not require the actual building on Hewlett Avenue to be made larger, with some offices to be converted into new classrooms.
Chanie Kramer said the classrooms would encourage students to utilize their learning space almost like an additional instructor.
“We don’t focus so much on bright, splashy carpets and colorful walls, and things like that,” she said. “The work of the children is more of what’s displayed. We set up provocations for the children to get their minds curious, to be engaged, and to want to learn.
“We of course have a curriculum,” she added. “But it’s child-centered rather than teacher-centered. If the children are interested in exploring a certain unit of interest, the teacher dives in with them, and they go a step further.”
The preschool runs a pre-kindergarten, toddler and nursery program and has a large, outdoor playground. One of the classrooms isn’t even in a permanent space, the Kramers explained, but is rather separated from a communal area with room dividers. The expansion would allow for about three or four new classrooms to be built, increasing the total to around eight classrooms, they said.
The Chabad said it plans to convert one of these new spaces into an infant room, and also create an immersive indoor playground.
This additional space should benefit the Hebrew school and Chabad’s summer camp, and the Kramers estimated that once the renovations are completed, they’ll be able to accommodate around 150 more children across all three programs.
Marianna Borets, the preschool’s director, expressed excitement for the expansion because it meets the demands of the community.
“We have lists into 2024, maybe into 2025, of kids that want to come, and we’ve been really jam-packed, so we have no room,” Borets said. “So it’s super exciting to give more and more children an opportunity to come to the program, and experience all the wonderful teachers and programming that we have here.”
Shimon Kramer said the Chabad would like to offer scholarships for the preschool, and help families who may not be able to afford it. “Living on Long Island is very expensive,” he said. “(The campaign) raises money for those families that need that extra help.”
A committee would determine who is awarded these scholarships and how much money would be given after assessing the needs of a family.
“We care about these families,” Shimon Kramer said. “And if someone can’t pay, we try to do our best to make it feasible for them to come in.”
The fundraising campaign took place online beginning on Dec. 20, when potential donors could read what their donation would benefit and choose an amount to give. A few families part of the Chabad offered to match donations, propelling the campaign to its final amount. A total of around 350 people donated to the campaign.
“I just want to say that I am pleasantly surprised, and I think we live in a great, great community,” Shimon Kramer said. “For 350 people to come out and to give charity at the end of the year — whatever touched their heart, Chanie and I are very touched.
“It’s not even the fact that we have the funds, and now we’re able to build,” he added. “It’s that fact that we have the support of the community, and that we have such good people in our community.”
The Town of Hempstead has already approved the plans for expansion, and the Kramers are hopeful the renovations would be completed by September.
To learn more about the plans, and the Chabad in general, visit ChabadJewishLife.org.