Yom Sport 2013 (blog from http://www.jewishboston.com/Sierra/blogs/5272-18th-annual-yom-sport)

ImageOn Sunday August 18, Greater Boston’s day of sports for adults with disabilities, Yom Sport, celebrated its 18th anniversary!  It was a sea of tie-dye shirts and smiles as volunteers and adults with disabilities joined their teams to compete in sporting events.  Participants competed in a variety of activities from soccer accuracy to relay races to golf and, of course, winning medals for their achievements at each station.

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On the Yom Sport webpage it says, “Yom Sport serves many purposes which include a place to make new friends, raise awareness, a chance to see similarities among people with different abilities, and a unique opportunity to gain a new perspective on one’s own life. Most importantly, we have a lot of fun!”  This statement proved very true last Sunday athletes, volunteers, and family members came together to create a very special day of fun and competition.  Everyone was extremely supportive of one another, giving high fives, hugs, and congratulations, as the athletes scored goals, worked together, and won medals.

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The mother of a participant of ten years, Esta Levine, said “It’s wonderful. He loves being here! I look forward to this every year. Jonathan is really quiet but I see him looking around and I know he’s recognizing people-his friends. Many people participate in all activities. I bring him and I love watching all the people.”  It was amazing to see the teamwork in every team, whether it was cheering on other competitors, working together for the win, or dancing to the background music.

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When asked what his favorite moment of Yom Sport was, volunteer Adam Amster (pictured above giving high five) said, “Watching the athletes having a success of any kind, even if it’s just competing and loving every minute of it.”  Another volunteer, Pam Laufer (pictured below on far left) said, “The whole thing; I’m having the time of my life. This is the most uplifting, positive, beautiful day I could ever want in my life. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now except here.” Some volunteers were team leaders or activity leaders and others worked one on one with a participant within a team and everyone was happy!  All the volunteers were making connections with the participants and rekindling or creating friendships that will last for many years.

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One of everyone’s favorite moments at Yom Sport is when the athletes receive their medals.  Jessica Cohen, a volunteer, said her favorite moment is: “The smiles on the athletes when they get their medals. It’s like the most glowing moment of the year. It’s what brings me back.”  Yom Sport is a truly inspiring day of sporting events where adults of all abilities can shine and be winners!

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

dance4empowerment debut program

In July I incorporated dance4empowerment as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in Massachusetts and this week I held its debut program at my summer camp, Camp Ramah New England (CRNE).  Since CRNE’s Tikvah program, a unique program offering a summer overnight camp experience for children with disabilities, was the inspiration for dance4empowerment, I appreciated the opportunity to return to CRNE and give back to my summer community. 

After almost two years of planning, I finally witnessed the dance program I worked so hard to create become a reality and it was everything I wanted it to be and more.  With the help of Sivan Rose Elefson, a certified dance therapist and clinician at Brandon School and Treatment Center, and Howard Blas, the director of the Tikvah program at CRNE, we created one and a half days of programming for the campers with disabilities, empowered counselors in training (CIT—oldest age group campers) with new leadership skills, and inspired everyone involved to work together.

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Sivan and I started off the program by sharing our goals for the Tikvah campers with the CITs. We explained how to encourage the Tikvah campers to work together in expressing themselves through dance and movement; and, we tested other activities for the Tikvah campers to enjoy later in the afternoon.  The results were fantastic – the CITs labored through different ideas and tweaked them to make the program accessible for every camper we would be working with.  They put an overwhelming amount of thought and passion into making sure their campers would learn, be engaged and comfortable, and, of course, have fun!

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The dance and movement part of the program began with the integration of a very colorful prop called an octoband (pictured above) which helped the Tikvah campers work together to keep a ball in the center (of the octoband).  The CITs assisted the Tikvah campers with wrapping their band on different parts of their body so they could think about which part of their body they would use in dance and movement.  The Tikvah campers giggled as they put their band on their head and wiggled around or on their foot and kicked; exploring these possibilities allowed them to express themselves.

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The next activity we introduced was mirroring, this filled the majority of our time together.  Breaking off into groups of three (two Tikvah campers to mirror each other and one CIT to guide them), campers explored their own moves, whether balancing on one foot, swaying their arms, or spinning in circles; they were all having a great time and were so excited to share tricks with their friends.  At the end, we all came together to show off the dance moves each group created based on what they liked, their energy, and the relationship they were able to make through dance. 

The Tikvah campers loved watching and learning each other’s dance moves and eventually we put them all together to Katy Perry’s “Firework.”  After participating in the program and watching the Tikvah campers, CIT Galia Bernat said, “it was nice to see that all the kids were really engaged in what we were doing and really excited to move their bodies in ways they maybe hadn’t before…”  Many of the CITs even noticed that campers who are often distracted or don’t like trying new things were engaged and having a good time.  Another CIT, Ezra Hurvitz, said, “the social interaction that each camper could have… and the fact that dance could empower them to do their own steps was a really great thing.”

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Given the feedback from the CITs and the positive response from the Tikvah campers, I am proud that the first dance4empowerment program was a huge success!  I hope CRNE will invite the program back next year and that the local community will soon learn the benefits of dance for people with disabilities.   

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

Inspiring Seminar with Governor Deval Patrick

At the beginning of my journey to create CHEETA (Children Helping Empower Each other Through Art), I met Representative Kay Khan of Newton, MA. Rep. Khan and I instantly connected through our love of dance (Rep. Khan taught a ballet program in her basement during the summer when she was a teenager). From the start, Rep. Khan has supported me, shared valuable advice, and communicated with me the important work she is pursuing as the co-chair on the Joint Committee for Families, Children, and People with Disabilities.
This summer, Rep. Khan has given me the opportunity to be an intern in her office. As an intern I am responsible for a variety of tasks as well as attending intern seminars. When people find out that I am an intern at the State House, their first question is usually have you met the Governor? Last week, as part of the intern seminar series, I did get to meet Governor Deval Patrick and learn from him. Governor Patrick talked to us about his background and his life when he was our age, he shared inspirational quotes from his grandma, and he allowed us to ask him anything we wanted.

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I found our time with Governor Patrick special and inspiring; he was very relatable and spoke to us as the next leaders in our country and not as “teens”. He told us, “hope for the best but work for it”. This really spoke to me as I work to create CHEETA and empower children with disabilities.
The final message that Governor Patrick left us with was in response to the question: what is the biggest challenge facing our [the interns] generation? His response was, “The number one challenge facing you generation is going to have to be decided by your generation and solved by your generation”. I have seen many challenges in the process of creating CHEETA because of my age and I know that even as I get older I will still face challenges. Governor Patrick has given me the hope that I can create CHEETA and be successful because I can shape my challenges, my successes, and my future.
Dance, move, and empower,
Sierra