Do you even like your job?

by: Yoni Arya, Assistant Director of Programming

img_5049Camp Shutaf, part of Shutaf Inclusion Programs, offers 3 weeks of camp for 130 campers, teens and young adult participants from the greater Jerusalem area. More than 50% of Shutaf families pay significantly reduced tuition for the program which includes busing to and from camp. Shutaf believes that every family should have access to quality summer programs regardless of their financial situation, and without the family having to jump through hoops in order to  prove that they need financial aid for camp.

I have had the absolute pleasure of working for Shutaf for the last three years, now going on four, and everyday I find something new that I love about job.

The best part of my job at Shutaf is our focus on  answering difficult needs, especially during  summertime, Which can be the most difficult time of the year for children with special needs and their families. Choices for activities are limited, and most of them end up putting families into debt.

I am so proud that Shutaf is a reliable, professional and affordable answer for so many children and  families.

Let me tell you more with a story from a pre-camp home visit. I knocked on the door, Emotionally  prepared (or so I thought) for meeting a mom and her two boys. A ten year old boy, “Moshe”, answered. “Moshe” is super polite, and very sweet – you can tell he is very excited to see me. I sit down with his mother ‘Sara’, and his brother ‘David’, who is thirteen and a Half (a very important point to David), and their older sister who is an IDF soldier.

‘Sara’ begins by telling me that she will only be sending ‘David’ to camp as she is not familiar with Shutaf programs, and only feels comfortable sending her older son. From the way she is speaking, and by informally  assessing  their extremely modest home, I can tell that there is a lot more going on here then she is comfortable sharing with me.

I tell her about camp and the  different activities we offer, and watch as both  boys get excited. We discuss tuition, and I can also see the look on Sara’s face as she wonders how she is going to pay for two children to go to camp for two weeks. Next,my favorite part of the home visit, getting to know the kids. I find out that David  loves to sing and apparently is very good at it. He also loves soccer, carpentry and swimming. “Moshe” is an energetic boy who also loves sports, swimming and playing with friends. The family, thinking I wouldn’t take a problem child, told me that the children don’t really have behavioral issues.  This seemed a little odd to me and the sister had made a couple comments to the contrary. I filled in the children’s information and told Sara to be in touch with our Director, Marci Tirschwell to discuss price (which she brought up numerous times during this home visit).

I wanted a little more information on these children as I felt i didn’t get to see the full picture. After getting permission from the mother I got in contact with the school social worker who handed me over to David’s teacher.  My expectation of this call was that the teacher would tell me that the boys have some behavioral issues but it is a manageable situation. Boy was I wrong. The teacher proceeded to tell me that not only do the boys have some behavioural issues but the financial situation was worst than I thought. She told me that Sara is a very caring mother and tries her hardest but can only send a very plain sandwich for lunch and the school provides clothing for the children.  Sara can’t even pay the 3$ that goes towards the classroom fund. ON top of all this she had to have surgery on her leg so she is not able to work.

We decided, as is our policy, to contact the city social worker and double check the financial situation and see if the social services department would help this family pay for camp. I tried to contact the social worker several times but only once got a hold of a different social worker that told me she would ask  the families social worker to contact me. She hasn’t yet. Meanwhile our counselors get in contact with our families the week before camp in order to update them on relevant information for camp. I was told by one of the counselors that they called the “Cohen” family and were told that the children are not signed up for camp.

Finding this very odd I phoned Sara. Sara told me the children weren’t interested in camp anymore. To try and feel out what the issue was I asked if they would like to come to camp for a week. As Sara is discussing this with David I hear one of the most heartbreaking sentences come out of David’s mouth. “Mom if it’s too much money I don’t want to go”. What is happening in our country when a thirteen year old is willing to pass an amazing summer experience because his Mom can’t afford it?

I immediately told her that I would call her back in a few minutes. I called up Marci and explained the situation. Her immediate response “make it happen”. I am extremely proud to work in an organization that gave me the opportunity to allow this family to come to camp no questions asked. These two children are coming to camp. The mother payed the lowest tuition that I believe we ever offered and this family deserves that. Some of my fondest memories are of camp I don’t think any child should be deprived of that.

The Moments That Shape Us

There are moments that shape us as individuals and experiences that change our outlook on life. We’re not always aware of these changes in the moment, but as we reflect on the journey we have traveled, we can plan our path for the future.

Pat Deegan delivered a paper on the topic of “healing;” “…let the mainstream become a wide stream that has room for all of us and leaves no one stranded on the fringes.” I’m assuming Pat has never heard of Shutaf but she describes my Shutaf vision perfectly…

Chanukah Party, 2014It’s my first day of camp, there’s an enormous circle of campers and counselors that forms. They break out in song and dance, those participating are absolutely bursting with joy. There are a few individuals uninterested in participating. I try coaxing them into joining in, without any luck… At our after-camp-staff meeting we discuss what we as counselors should expect from the campers during “ma’agal” (circle time.)

With an adjusted outlook, I arrive on the second day of camp. As the circle of counselors and campers forms, I approach one of the few campers that isn’t interested in joining the larger group. I ask the camper if they would like to be a spectator to this “show”, we talk about being spectators at the theater, and choose to clap along, from the sidelines.

Participation is solely based on definition.
“…let the mainstream become a wide stream that has room for all of us and leaves no one stranded on the fringes.”

I’m on the bus with some of our teens from the teen leadership program. We talk about what we’ll need to do once we arrive at our destination, we start talking about recent bus line changes, and a well intending woman pipes up. She looks at me directly and wishes me a “kol hakavod,” (good job,) for spending time with them. “Them?”, I asked. I kindly explained that these are my friends, and we were just talking about the bus line changes, and inquire if she had heard. She hadn’t, so the “chevre”, my “chevre” filled her in.

“…let the mainstream become a wide stream that has room for all of us and leaves no one stranded on the fringes.”

It’s these moments and these experiences that have shaped me into who I am today. Shutaf has found a permanent home in my heart.

This post was written by Rina Shmuel. She has been on staff at Shutaf for three years, is studying to be an Ocupational Therapist, and recently became a presenter of the Shutaf “Inclusion Accelerators.”

 

A Day to Explore

Our summer intern, Stephanie Reynolds, has been chronicling her daily experiences at Camp Shutaf. A recent college grad from Toronto, Stephanie has been having a blast experiencing camp and inclusion the Shutaf way. Enjoy!

IMG_20150731_182637When I got to Camp Shutaf, I was told I had the option of joining a group of young campers or going on a scavenger hunt with the teen camper. I was a little hesitant to leave the camp location but thought a day out exploring would be fun. I’m very glad I made the decision I did, as I got the opportunity to see various sections of the municipality and learn about the history of the area. I got to see the Old City, and in particular the Armenian Quarter which I’ve never seen –  I was really excited and impressed. Thankfully, I was put in a group where the counselors spoke very good English. One of them even gave me a little history lesson about the Armenian quarter which I really enjoyed. Learning about the rich history of Jerusalem and the Old City would’ve been enough but I also got to relax in the shade while eating lunch and a popsicle.

Today was a very different day to my previous experiences at Camp Shutaf but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I wasn’t running around as much and wasn’t able to communicate as much with crazy actions during activities but I was still so pleased with how the day turned out. Now I don’t know what to do. Do I stay with little campers or do I mature up and go with the teens?

The Best Part?

Our summer intern, Stephanie Reynolds, has been chronicling her daily experiences at Camp Shutaf. A recent college grad from Toronto, Stephanie has been having a blast experiencing camp and inclusion the Shutaf way. Enjoy!

IMG_20150731_182637Interning at Shutaf includes getting to work with many great people at an awesome organization. It’s also offered a combination of experiences, in particular, unpredictability and being flexible. Prior to starting at Shutaf I thought I’d be working on social media but have to come to realize my role is much more diverse than that. Every day you have no definitive idea of what will be asked of you or what you’ll be doing. This is not a bad thing in my opinion because it means you can look forward to every day being a new adventure. You can never get bored with repetition and at an environment such as summer camp being able to adapt is a good quality to have. Being flexible means getting to enjoy the short time you have with the kids that much more.

When I was told I would be going to camp, I figured I would just be on the sidelines, watching and observing. While I do end up doing that (my shyness always gets the best of me), I also get to interact with the kids – today, I got the opportunity to get involved with other activities. I made a  purse out of newspaper which was really fun, and I also had the opportunity to dance again.

The best part? Trying to improve my people skills. I am being forced to break out of my shell and talk to people. The language barrier makes it a little difficult but it is still really fun.

Even more so, I get to experience in a small way, what it is like having a disability in day-to-day activities. Not being able to join in an activity, or feeling left out of something, are experiences that everyone feels at some point but for people with disabilities, they face that exclusion every day. I know I’ll never be able to truly understand the struggle but being at Camp Shutaf is helping me learn. The unpredictability and flexibility required is all a part of this process. Even though I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing tomorrow, I’m still excited!

One Week Down…

Our summer intern, Stephanie Reynolds, has been chronicling her daily experiences at Camp Shutaf. A recent college grad from Toronto, Stephanie has been having a blast experiencing camp and inclusion the Shutaf way. Enjoy!

IMG_20150731_182637This week was absolutely fantastic! I got to pick up some new Hebrew words, make new friends and just have fun again. I recently graduated from university and am very stressed but working at Shutaf is a nice relief. Being someone one of the interns means I still have some responsibility which is nice, but I can still enjoy myself. Helping out when needed and getting to experience new things was very satisfying. I’m almost tears right now just thinking about how in a few weeks it’ll all be over but I’m also very thankful for this experience so far. Without even realizing it, Shutaf now has a special place in my heart and that thought just makes me really happy.

My First Day with a Group!

Our summer intern, Stephanie Reynolds, has been chronicling her daily experiences at Camp Shutaf. A recent college grad from Toronto, Stephanie has been having a blast experiencing camp and inclusion the Shutaf way. Enjoy!

IMG_20150731_182637Today was a very fun and different kind of day because it was my first whole day with the same group. The ages of the kids are around 8-9 years of age and were full of so much energy. It felt nice to finally have a specific group to be with because it allowed me to bond more with those kids and the counselors. I also got the opportunity to experience a broad range of activities with the same group which made it possible to see the different sides of the kids.

There a few extra special moments today one of which was when one of the kids leaned on me and held my hand while we were in a session with animals. I always heard that children have the best intuition and judgement of character and for a child who doesn’t even know me to trust me like that was very heartwarming. Throughout the day kids were asking me for help and coming up to me which was also a great feeling.  Another fun activity with the kids was when we got to play outside with bubbles. We were playing together and I got to take some awesome pictures. Seeing the smiles on the children was very satisfying. To have children respect me but also enjoy my company without us even really speaking to each other is simply another heartwarming moment.

Campers and counselors alike were engaging in conversation with me and I think it was then that I started feeling really good about the day. Getting to know a few of the counselors was also really great because it allowed me the opportunity to bond with people around my age and I also got to learn a little about life in Israel and at Shutaf. Making new friends is sometimes difficult for me but being with this group at Shutaf was pretty fantastic. Once again there was the obvious language barrier but when you are around certain individuals for a certain amount of time you start to build a great relationship!

קייטנה לילדים בעלי צרכים מיוחדים מחפשת מקום קבע בירושלים

Author: Dana Pollak. This originally appeared in Walla News, on May 7th, 2015

שתי אימהות לילדים בעלי מוגבלויות הקימו מסגרת שתספק מענה לחופשות ולאחר הצהריים עבור
150 ילדים בעלי צרכים שונים. עכשיו, הן מחפשות מקום קבוע שיגרום להן להפסיק לנדוד, לטענתן לעירייה “לא אכפת”. עיריית ירושלים: “הבקשה תיבחן”1469827-18

מרים אברהם ובת’ שטיינברג, אימהות לילדים עם צרכים מיוחדים חיפשו מסגרת לילדיהם לתקופות חופש – חיפוש שלא העלה פתרונות. לכן, החליטו השתיים לפתוח בעצמן מסגרת עמותת “שותף”. כעת, אחרי שנים של פעילות, הן מחפשות מקום קבוע שיארח אותן בחופשת הקיץ. פניות לעיריית ירושלים, העיר שבה פועלת הקייטנה, נתקלו בדחיות חוזרות ונשנות לקבוע פגישות.

“התחלנו לפעול ב-2007 אבל עד היום לא מצאנו בית קבע”, אומרת שטיינברג, “את הפעילויות במהלך השבוע אנו עורכות בבית ימק”א בעיר ואת קייטנת פסח עשינו במוזיאון הטבע. היה מקסים שם וזה יכול להיות מקום מצוין גם לקיץ, אבל עכשיו מדברים על מכירת הקרקע לטובת בנייה. למה לא להשאיר משהו לטובת הילדים?”

“אנחנו שלושה חודשים לפני אוגוסט והמצב קשה. איש לא רוצה אותנו כשמדובר על תקופה של שלושה שבועות בלבד”, אומרת שטיינברג. “בפסח אנחנו הולכים לבתי הספר, אך בקיץ זו תקופה של שיפוצים לקראת השנה הבאה, אז זו לא אופציה. אנחנו מנסות לדפוק על כל דלת בתקווה למצוא מקום שיקבל אותנו ויהיה בגודל מתאים ונעים לילדים וגם מותאם לצרכיהם”.

את “שותף” הקימו שטיינברג ואברהם, עולות מארצות הברית, בעלת קייטרינג ומעצבת גרפית. תחילה, הייתה זו מסגרת קטנה שמטרתה לספק מענה לכמה משפחות שהכירו שחיפשו תעסוקת אחר הצהריים ובחופשות לילדים. “זה התחיל מעשרה ילדים שהעבירו שבועיים בכייף עם ארבעה מדריכים”, אומרת שטיינברג, “כשדיברנו עם ההורים הבנו שכולם הרגישו שלראשונה מצאו את מקומם. זה התחיל כמיזם פרטי לגמרי והפך למסגרת שהיא הרבה יותר ממה ששיערנו”.

כיום מציעה “שותף” תכניות שבועיות ופעילות בחופשות ליותר מ-150 ילדים ובני נוער עם צרכים מיוחדים בגילאי 21-6 בירושלים. הארגון יצר מודל משולב חדש שבו 75% ילדים עם צרכים מיוחדים והשאר הם ילדים “רגילים”. בין התכניות שמפעילה העמותה ניתן למצוא מועדוניות, קייטנות בפסח ובחופש הגדול, סדנאות שילוב לקהלים שונים ותכנית מד”צים- מנהיגים צעירים עם צרכים מיוחדים.

ייחודה של המסגרת הנו, כאמור, השילוב שבין ילדים עם צרכים שונים באותה מסגרת, שילוב מסוג שלא נראה באף מקום. הדבר מוביל לרשימת המתנה לקייטנה, רשימה שכוללת בעיקר ילדים רגילים. “אחרי הכל, גם הם מחפשים מסגרת ואנחנו נותנות משהו שלא קיים כאן. יש הורים שמבינים את היתרונות”, אומרת שטיינברג.

אברהם מוסיפה: “אנחנו עושות בפועל מה שהאקדמאים ואנשי המקצוע מדברים עליו – שילוב. זה לא רק לקחת ילדים בלי צרכים ועם צרכים אלא גם לערבב בין המוגבלויות. היום, מדיניות הממשלה מונעת שילוב שכזה וזה חבל. זה מוביל לבזבוז כספים כשעושים פעילות אחת לאוטיסטים, אחרת לבעלי פיגור ואחרת לבעלי תסמונת דאון. לכן, אין לנו טעם לגשת למכרזים של העיר או של המדינה כשכל מכרז מגביל אותנו לסוג מוגבלות ספציפי ואוסר עלינו לשלב ילדים עם מוגבלות אחרת או ילדים רגילים”.

“אם לא נמצא מקום גדול מספיק נאלץ לקצר את הקייטנה”

השתיים פנו לעיריית ירושלים במטרה לקבל סיוע באיתור מבנה – אך לא הצליחו למצוא אוזן קשבת. “שנים אני מנסה לשבת עם ראש העיר ולספר לו על העבודה שלנו אך זה לא יצא לפועל”, אומרת אברהם. “יש לנו פגישות עם אנשים בעירייה ממחלקת שיקום ומאגף הנוער, והם יודעים שאנחנו פועלות למען ילדים עם צרכים מיוחדים אך לא ממש אכפת להם. אנחנו מקבלות מהם עשרת אלפים שקלים, אבל למה זה מספיק? הם לא מבינים שאם משקיעים בילדים האלו עכשיו יהיה להם עתיד טוב, הם לא יהיו נטל על איש. אבל היום איש לא משקיע בהם”.

“אנשים בעירייה או גורמי מקצוע לא רואים את הפוטנציאל, לא מבינים שאנחנו הצעד הבא. אבל אנחנו ממשיכות לבדנו”, אומרת אברהם. “אם לא נמצא מקום גדול מספיק או כסף לשכירות למקומות שכרגע אין ביכולתנו לממן ולהתאים לצרכינו, נאלץ לקצר את הקייטנה. אבל זו לא הכוונה”, היא מוסיפה. “אנחנו כאן לספק מסגרת לילדים, מסגרת שתתאים לצרכיהם ותעניק להם את הכיף שכל ילד עושה בחופש הגדול”.

מעיריית ירושלים נמסר: “עיריית ירושלים מאשרת הקצבות על-פי קריטריונים מקצועיים, והעמותה קיבלה הקצבה בסכום של עשרת אלפים שקלים. לעירייה הגיעה רק לאחרונה בקשה מעומתת ‘שיתוף’ להקצאת מקום לפעילותם, והבקשה תיבחן בהתאם לקריטריונים ולנוהל ההקצאות”.

לפניות לכתבת דנה ווילר פולק: danawp@walla.co.il

The Four Children. Welcoming All Children to the Seder.

By Beth steinberg.
This blog was originally posted on the Times of Israel, on April 2nd, 2015. 

Each year, as we read the parable of the four children, I think about all those other children not mentioned in this historically, simplified description of human behavior.

“One who is wise or thoughtful.
One who is wicked or rebellious.
One who is simple or innocent.
One who does not know how to ask.”
Adapted from A Night to Remember, by Mishael Zion and Noam Zion

The Seder’s Four Children ask us to consider what is wisdom, rebelliousness, simplicity or, even being unable to ask? Emotions and questions that would seem to relate to the average child’s experience of learning and growing, of being and becoming a worthy individual.

The cousins. March, 2015

The cousins. March, 2015

Children. What do we want for them? So much. Make the right choices. Give the right answers. Live up to expectation. Make of yourself something that society values. Excel and shine, learn to be caring human beings, exemplify the wise and thoughtful child of the Four Children. Who would want different?

How do we react when they behave badly? Not well. You’re the evil child.

Get an A? You’re the wise child.

Seem sort of off? The innocent child.

More off? The child who lacks communication, who doesn’t even know how to ask. For so many things.

Becoming, of course, doesn’t happen in an instant. It takes time, along with fostering a range of necessary life experiences for each individual – part of their development and maturation process. Their actions and choices may vacillate, be they wise and unwise. Their big questions may be answered or left unresolved, their personal balance lost or found, their lives opened or kept closed to personal growth. As for their siblings and family members – they’re either carried along with them on their path to adult enlightenment or left behind in the dust of self-discovery. We parents can only leave the door wide open and hope that they will return to ask and discuss those ever so important four questions at the Seder.

While we now have many Haggadic variations on the four children – ones that do consider a different take on the traditional view of childhood and development – the tale of these four children can still be a moment of sadness for those with disabilities (and those who love them) at a Seder, or, of feeling marginalized because these descriptions don’t match their childhood (and parenting) challenges and experiences.

For this year, 5775, I offer up this take on the four children, recognizing that there will always be children who fly under the radar of general acceptance and love.

The one who is wise to people’s feelings, who senses happiness and sadness.
The one who struggles to understand and control their impulses and behavior.
The one who is innocent of unkind thoughts, who greets the world with pleasure and happiness.
The one who wishes to be welcomed and spoken to in public, while lacking traditional forms of communication.

Pesach Sameach.

 

My Perfect Internship

11053271_10152737475253441_5953663643612746229_oAs a recent college graduate, it’s a pretty standard thing to do an internship. A lot of people my age do internships to get experiences in various different fields that they are interested in possibly working in one day. It’s really not a rare thing.

What is rare, however, is to find the perfect internship. And let me tell you- I can say, without hesitation, that my internship experience with Shutaf could not have been more perfect. From the work I was doing to the people I was working with, everything was simply awesome.

Here are my top 5 reasons why Shutaf was such a perfect internship:

1) The staff at Shutaf is top-notch. I had the experience of getting to work with some really inspiring people, who all have such a passion and dedication to the work that they do day in and day out. I remember coming to the first staff meeting on a Tuesday morning and being a bit nervous. How do I suddenly incorporate myself into this organization that is already running so smoothly without me? My fears were relieved from the very minute the meeting started, as everyone on the staff was so welcoming and eager to hear my opinions on various topics.

2) My big project at Shutaf was so much fun and so rewarding! I had the chance to coordinate, for the first time, a team of runners to run in the Jerusalem Marathon in support of a more inclusive Jerusalem. It was a big task, but I was excited for the challenge! I’ve often heard friends complain that at their internships they weren’t given substantial, long-term projects. This certainly wasn’t the case for me!

3) Flexibility. As someone traveling in a new country, participating on a Masa program, and dealing with lots of constant schedule changes, flexibility was crucial. And at Shutaf, I found from the start that the staff was, thankfully, so flexible. I worked most directly with Elizabeth, the Director of Outreach and Education, and she always available by phone, email, text message, you name it! If I had a work conflict, she helped me figure it out. If I needed to come to the office a bit late she happily said “no problem” with a smile.

4) The kids and teens and Shutaf are simply awesome. I’m really going to miss seeing their faces every Thursday (and sometimes Tuesday) afternoon. Even with my limited Hebrew, they were eager to engage in conversation, learn more about me, tell me about their weekend adventures. They’re really just a great group of kids, each with such unique personalities. So full of life, so enthusiastic and willing to try new things, even things that may be scary and difficult at first.

5) Shutaf, as an organization, has the power to change the world, and I really do mean that. As I’ve said so many times to so many different people, Shutaf is a model of inclusion for the entire world. Read about Shutaf, visit the program, hear from volunteers, listen to personal stories and you’ll be amazed at just how flawlessly Shutaf works. I’ve learned so much from Shutaf and now’s the time for me to pass it on.

Written by, Rebecca Cushman, who interned with Shutaf from October, 2014-March, 2015. She was originally a participant in the “Real Life Israel,” Masa affiliated program.

Valuing Differences. Guest Blog by: Jenn Smith

Jenn interned at Shutaf during 2013-2014 academic year.  Originally from LA, she lived in Jerusalem while studying in Hebrew University’s Non-Profit Management and Leadership MA program.  Thank you, Jenn!

Jennifer SmithPrior to my first visit to Shutaf’s afterschool program I was warned that most of the kids would speak little to no English, however with two months of ulpan under my belt, I was confident that I would be able to communicate with at least some of them. Boy was I wrong! When I arrived at the program, the kids were all very warm and welcoming, but once they started talking, I seemed to have forgotten all of the Hebrew that I had learned! A young girl immediately approached me to investigate who I was and what I was doing at Shutaf. A staff member not only had to translate for me, but also respond on my behalf. I was not as fortunate other times that afternoon and often found myself frantically searching for help when a child attempted to communicate with me. I was dependent entirely on the English-speaking staff. Not being able to communicate with the kids made me feel useless and completely isolated from the very people I was there to interact with.

As the afternoon progressed, many of the kids seemed to pick up on my limitation or special need, if you will. One boy took my hand and brought me over to where lunch was being served and merely pointed to the items that he wanted and required my help getting. Another girl, who insisted that we work on her art piece together, simply communicated by passing me a crayon and pointing at her drawing. I knew I correctly interpreted her actions when a huge grin spread across her face after I began adding a little jewelry to the ladies in her drawing! She clearly had not yet learned that every woman is in need of a little bling and I was happy to share such an important life lesson with her! After our artwork was complete, another group of kids gestured for me to join them on the floor for a card game that I was unfamiliar with. They demonstrated first how to play and then handed me the cards so that I could have a turn. They were patient when I didn’t catch on to some of the rules immediately and persistent in trying to find alternative ways to explain something when I didn’t understand their hand mimes the first time. Similar instances occurred throughout the remainder of the afternoon and, by the end of the program, I was baffled as to where the time went!

I had never thought of myself as being a person who has a disability, but reflecting back on my first visit to Shutaf, I now see that I was. Yes, it was only temporary and, in the realm of disabilities, doesn’t even begin to compare, but it did give me a quick glimpse into what many of these kids experience on a daily basis and may continue to throughout their lives. The initial feelings of isolation, exclusion, frustration, and purposelessness that endured when I arrived at Shutaf are typical for a person who has a disability. Although adjusting to this new environment and impairment of mine was difficult and uncomfortable at first, having the kids at Shutaf accept and include me despite my differences, made a huge impact and had me leaving with a sense of purpose. This outcome, I believe, can be attributed to the amazing, inclusive environment that the Shutaf staff has cultivated.

Above all else, Shutaf has taught me to value people’s differences by understanding that everyone has something worth contributing. I was lucky enough to be in an environment with kids who are thoughtful, tolerant, kind, and patient, and also embrace this very notion. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It is important to remember that although you may not know now what it feels like to be a person who has a disability, likely, at some point in your life, you will (World Health Organization). Keep this in mind before you decide to brush off someone who might be a little bit different from you, or even before you choose to park on the sidewalk, making it virtually impossible for someone in a wheelchair to get somewhere they need to be, instead of spending the extra ten minutes it takes to find a parking spot, or before you opt to not make your business, classroom, program, or whatever else, accessible for everyone because it requires a little extra work on your end or might cost a bit more.

A huge thank you to all of the Shutaf staff and Shutaf participants for the invaluable lessons you have taught me over the last year! I will be sure to share those lessons and I hope you and everyone reading will do the same!