East of Elmgrove

Making a House a Home

Congregation Beth Sholom bands together to make the temple more handicapped-friendly

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This story begins with a green house on Elmgrove. Many East Siders know it as the former house of Governor Gina Raimondo. She lived there with her family for many years, and then one day a “for sale’’ appeared in front, signaling her move to Morris. The sign eventually came down, piquing my interest about the new owners, especially after a ramp went up out front. I thought maybe it was an older couple. Wrong.

The new East Siders are the very youthful and spirited Jeremy and Marina Goodman, two remarkable parents who are raising three children, including David who has physical and developmental challenges and moves about in a wheelchair, hence the ramp. “He’s a lot of fun. He loves people,’’ says Marina. “He’s the mayor of the neighborhood.’’

David is also a member of Congregation Beth Sholom, the Orthodox Jewish synagogue at the corner of Camp Street and Rochambeau Avenue. He’s been there since his family moved to the East Side nearly two years ago when Jeremy, a veterinarian, took a job as director of the Roger Williams Park Zoo. David loves the synagogue, and so does his family, but there’s one problem: only the upper level of the building is accessible to wheelchairs. The lower level, where all the social events take place – kiddushes, dinners and festivals – is not.

Marina wants to change that. She and other members of the congregation have launched a campaign to raise money to install an accessible entrance for not only David but also older members, as well as parents pushing strollers. It’s a fund drive born out of love and devotion, and she’s graciously asking for your help. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
David was born 17 years ago with severe disabilities: cerebral palsy, cognitive challenges and autism. Marina wasted little time trying to make things better, even trying alternative treatments in Canada. In time, she made peace with his limitations and, with her husband, focused on making his life as comfortable and fulfilling as possible.

His success is impressive. He’s a student at Cornerstone, a Cranston school for people with disabilities. He can read and write and is making strides in math. His attention span is improving by day. His memory is superb. “When you first meet him he’ll ask for your name, phone number, even your extension,’’ says Marina. “When you see him again, he’ll repeat everything.’’

With renovations, the green house has become his palace. His bedroom is on the first floor. The bathroom is fully accessible. His parents even installed a ceiling lift so he can be moved easily from his wheelchair to his bed. The changes were a labor of love. “It’s a wonderful house for us,’’ says Marina, a Cornell University graduate who works as a portfolio oversight manager for U.S. Trust. “We’re very happy there.’’

Which brings us to the project at Beth Sholom. When David first joined, four men would carry him in his wheelchair down a flight of stairs to the lower hall after Saturday services. “It’s just become too dangerous,’’ says Marina. “You’re talking 200 pounds, with the wheelchair.’’ So David remains upstairs while his parents take turns going down with their other children, Jack, 14, and Dina, 10, both students at Providence Hebrew Day School.

Last fall, the congregation got together and brainstormed. East Sider and Beth Sholom member Grace Novick called contractors to get bids and met with an engineer. Marina launched a drive to raise $30,000, the cost of the entrance and related construction. The group launched the campaign in February during Jewish Disability Awareness Month. So far, it has raised $7,000, an encouraging start. Wouldn’t it be great to see a new entrance by May?

David has helped Marina and her family zero in on what’s important. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take one day at a time. Be kind. Smile. She is amazed by how much compassion “the world’’ has shown her son, from the RIPTA bus drivers and home health aides to teachers and social service workers. “What has my son taught me about life?’’ she says. Turns out, everything.

To contribute, call Congregation Beth Sholom at 621-9393 or email officebethsholom@gmail.com or www.bethsholom-ri.org.

Elizabeth Rau can be reached at erau1@verizon.net