A Family Affair
Rachel Cohan Looks to Her Daughters and Mother for Mid-Life Inspiration
Inspiration often comes from unexpected sources. Fifty-five-year-old Brooklynite Rachel Cohan moved from Brazil to America when she was 14. Over the next four decades, she adjusted to our culture and language, got married, raised three daughters and excelled at a career in bookkeeping. The only thing she didn’t accomplish was earning a college degree.
But after watching each of her children acquire their Masters' from Touro, Cohan was motivated to pursue higher education. Today, the hard-working mother and businesswoman—who also speaks five languages—still maintains her office job, but at night takes psychology courses at Touro’s Lander College of Arts & Sciences, with an eye on following that up with even further accreditation in special education. For Cohan, it’s a new calling that’s also rooted in a lifelong passion.
“I’ve always had a sensitivity to children with special needs,” she explains, adding that the example was set for her early on. “My mother was incredible,” she says. “Her way generally with people, being especially sensitive and kind and doing for others.” Cohan has already begun applying that influence, as well as her studies at LAS, in interactions outside the classroom. Her field work with one prematurely born 5-year-old, specifically watching her commit the alphabet to memory after several weeks, has been particularly moving.
“She also worked with her sensory skills,” remembers Cohan. “If I would say the letter ‘c,’ with her hand, she would move and try to write the letter, which was quite interesting, because she couldn’t recognize the letters.” Cohan’s goal thus far when dealing directly with the kids is to try and develop fundamental abilities while simply reinforcing a positive, encouraging attitude. “It’s just exceptionally rewarding,” she beams. “These children are absolutely delighted to get the one-on-one attention.” It’s been so fulfilling, in fact, that she has continued volunteering to assist the aforementioned student even after meeting her academic requirements.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Cohan has found such a connection with these children. Moving to a new country in early adolescence was an often-trying experience, and one that has imbued her with tremendous empathy for anyone—whether special needs or not—trying to catch up with their peers. “I vividly remember being laughed at in class, because of course I did not have command of the English language,” she says, recalling one teacher in particular who took extra time and effort to bring her up to speed and was “also there for me as a friend and was exceptionally nice.”
Cohan’s journey is a testament to how one person can truly make a difference, and that it’s never too late. “It’s not always achieving the ABCs,” she reminds. “It’s the child’s needs you’re addressing.” And as for her daughters, they couldn’t be prouder of their mother, and vice versa. “I couldn’t do it without them,” she says. “It’s a whole [family] line. We try to do the little things.”