Keeping Kids Safe
Social Work Student Champions Personal Well-Being
While working at Our Place, a shelter for at-risk Orthodox Jewish teens, Shani Verschleiser noticed that a number of those seeking help for drug and alcohol problems had been victims of sexual abuse. “I told my husband Eli, who was also a volunteer and Our Place’s founder, that we have to work backward to help kids by reaching them before this cycle begins,” explains Verschleiser.
“Every child has the right to explore the world without being worried about personal safety,” says Verschleiser, a student at Touro’s Graduate School of Social Work. “People don’t want to think that these things are happening to our kids,” explains Verschleiser. “I decided that something needed to be done.”
Three years ago, she and her husband launched Magenu, an organization dedicated to protecting children within the Orthodox community by promoting personal safety education. “Magenu's goals are to teach our children how to respond to potentially dangerous situations, and to stand by and support victims.”
Verschleiser, a mother of four who grew up in an Orthodox area in Brooklyn, understands the concerns that parents and educators have about balancing children’s safety and issues of modesty. “I found that if we approached this issue from the perspective of education, people were open to it,” says Verschleiser, who serves as Magenu’s director. “Education is empowering.”
Magenu has provided training in dozens of Hebrew schools and Yeshivas throughout New York, Florida and Washington, DC, offering a full educational program and curriculum to parents, staff and students. “Magenu reaches children in their classrooms with age-appropriate materials and trained facilitators,” explains Shani. Parents attend an event where they become familiarized with the program and receive advice for helping children stay safe at home and in public places and learn how to recognize warning signs of possible abuse. Magenu’s work with teachers and administrators raises awareness and provides guidelines for schools in dealing with suspected situations.
“Part of our message is let’s educate kids about what is healthy in order to help them recognize what is unhealthy, and provide them with strategies for staying safe.” In addition to personal safety, Magenu seeks to train children on handling a range of emergency situations, including getting lost in public places and seeking appropriate help.
At Magenu’s annual Safety Day last year, over 4,000 parents and children attended a day-long event featuring national, state and local public service personnel and their emergency vehicles, which children had a chance to explore. Amid the carnival-like atmosphere of a day filled with rides, live performances, games and food, the families were also presented with information on summer safety topics specifically geared towards a child's personal safety.
Although trained as an audiologist, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, Verschleiser’s work with Magenu now demands all of her time and focus. Recognizing a need for additional training in order to continue educating communities, helping victims and nurturing Magenu’s growth, Verschleiser entered social work school in 2014. She selected Touro’s Graduate School of Social Work because of its emphasis on the social welfare of individuals. “It’s a very special place, very people-oriented and very open. It’s exactly the kind of program I was looking for.”
This article appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of Touro Links