Faculty Spotlight: Zahava L. Friedman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy

June 2023

Carmen Cicero

In this edition of the Faculty Spotlight, the Kean University Foundation has switched gears and is happy to have Zahava L. Friedman, Ph.D., tell her own story. We would be remiss, however, if we did not express our deepest appreciation and respect for Dr. Friedman’s resiliency and passion for this imperative community project.

The interdisciplinary team, including Dr. Friedman; Kelly Sullivan, Department of Occupational Therapy; Kate Nealon, School of Communication Disorders and Deafness; John Lee, School of Physical Therapy; and Keri Giordano, Department of Advanced Studies in Psychology, is already well underway and will have a tremendous impact on our community.

We also want to thank The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, including Michael Schmidt, CEO; Lisa Block, Senior Program Officer; and Kevin McManemin, Grants and Community Outreach Manager, for providing the generous grant that launched this program.

What inspired you to take on this initiative and how is it unique and innovative in nature?

Two things inspired me to take on this project. First, as a mother, I saw deep struggle within families of young children during the Covid-19 pandemic. Children lost access to peers and services, and caregivers were lonely and worried for their young kids. I myself had four children in elementary school at the time, as well as my youngest, who was one year old at the start of the pandemic. I knew if we were struggling as a family, many people were most likely struggling at home, too. Second, for many years, I worked as a school-based occupational therapist in a diverse community. One of the best parts of my work was the constant opportunity to collaborate – with children, with parents and with other educators and therapists. In this project, I want to be an agent of change to bring collaborative models into our universities and communities in an active way, just like I was able to do in my school based work. This project is collaborative in nature – it brings together students, clinicians and, most importantly, families and children from our community, working together to resourcefully support child development and parent mental health.

How is the partnership with HFNJ going to impact the community?

This project is titled, “Raising Families”. We are looking to raise up the family unit by collaborating with caregivers to become agents of change within their homes and communities. Caregivers will engage in weekly hands-on groups with expert clinicians from clinical psychology, physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy fields each week. Local clinicians will have an opportunity to work with Kean University students from four departments, sharing knowledge with students and families, while problem solving real-life challenges. The potential community impact is tremendous because bringing people together who care about children and families, who have skills and passion like our students, local clinicians and parents, can recharge child development AND improve sense of community for families in struggle. A parent who engages can become more confident, not only in raising that one child but in raising their entire family, supporting peer parents in struggle, and engaging more deeply and effectively in all that they do.

“What I have seen consistently is that Kean graduates are community folk – we are down to earth, hands-on clinicians who are out there, in schools, in hospitals, in centers, in public-serving practice.”

Carmen Cicero

How will this program align with the mission and vision of the university?

Kean University is known throughout New Jersey as a community-serving institution. I am originally from Brooklyn, New York, but I have been a New Jersey resident for seventeen years. As an occupational therapist who has practiced in N.J. for most of my career, I have met many clinicians, occupational therapists, speech therapists and psychologists, many of whom are Kean alumni. What I have seen consistently is that Kean graduates are community folk – we are down to earth, hands-on clinicians who are out there, in schools, in hospitals, in centers, in public-serving practice. That is what Kean personifies for me in its mission, and that is what we hope to build with the Raising Families project – a community serving model for our local families in nearby communities, like Hillside, Elizabeth and Newark. We are a neighborhood university, and we try to be good neighbors.

What types of goals and outcomes are you hoping to see?

I will know we are successful if we see the following: parents creating a community together, clinicians showing growth by learning from families and each other, children showing significant developmental gains on gold-standard assessment tools, and Kean University students building relationships with each other and their families. This is what we hope to see with the Raising Families Project.

Where can people in the community learn more about this program, or with whom can they contact?

We are in the process of creating a flyer and screening form. We are really excited to welcome our first cohort of families, scheduled to begin in May 2023. Kean students and faculty are currently collaborating to finalize curriculum, tools, materials and staffing. This project is going to recruit families with young children; any child born from between 2018 and 2023 is eligible. We will be providing 12 weeks of free, top-notch programming to every family – and there is a travel stipend as well! Please share with any families in our area who may be interested and feel free reach out to me by email at yarmuscz@kean.edu with any questions.