Opportunity Project Founders Rita Yohalem and Lisa Goldman receive Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference

June 17, 2014 by  
Filed under News

Pictured from left to right: Dr. Peter Mercer, Lisa Goldman, Rita Yohalem and Angela Berrie

Pictured from left to right: Dr. Peter Mercer, Lisa Goldman, Rita Yohalem and Angela Berrie

OP was created with the strong need and passion of Lisa Goldman and Rita Yohalem, two women who had a common mission: their sons had sustained serious brain injuries; Lisa’s from a brain tumor at 13 and Rita’s from an auto crash at 19. Both young men had serious challenges and their lives and their families were irrevocably changed due to these challenges.

After their sons lengthy acute medical and rehabilitation treatment was completed, they discovered that there was nothing that could meet the challenges their sons faced in order to create a new life.  These women, seeing a need within their own families, knew that other families were going through the same challenges — they wanted to make a difference,  help others while helping their own sons.

They each began exploring options for their sons to reintegrate back into their lives and community on their own. For two years Lisa attended meetings and researched services. Sitting at her kitchen table, she created a blueprint of what a program could look like that would meet her sons’ needs. She discovered and explored a program called ‘The Clubhouse Model.’ Realizing this was a large undertaking, she sought advice from a social worker who introduced her to Rita Yohalem.  It was an instant connection. They began meeting at each other’s homes and toured other Clubhouse programs throughout the country.  Armed with their research, they applied for non-profit status in 1993.

OP started with one day a week services in the library in 1994, eventually moving into office space donated by Board Chairperson, Marc Berson. They wrote grants, produced newsletters and raised funds to grow the program.  OP moved into a larger space and expanded the program to 5 days per week after receiving a local United Way grant in 1996.  In 2005, OP moved into its own building, financed by a capital campaign.

OP has served hundreds of adults with brain injury, enabling them to address vocational, cognitive, and social challenges which are critical in making effective changes to regain or recreate their lives that were lost. Membership is life-long and no member is ever turned away due to lack of finances.

Rita and Lisa through their own challenges as mothers extended themselves to others and gave so much ensure the long term success of OP. Without their dedication and compassion, hundreds of people with brain injury would never have had the benefit of this program.  Now in our 20th year, they remain active and on the Board to this day. Together, they were awarded the Russ Berrie Award For Making a Difference on April 30, 2014 at Ramapo College.

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