Another Successful Partnership with the Miss Amazing Pageant!

After a long winter break, I am back at school and ready to start blogging more regularly in 2016.

062

The New Year started with another dance4empowerment program in partnership with the Massachusetts’ Chapter of the Miss Amazing Pageant; and, even more exciting, this year I actually got to attend and participate.  Following our successful partnership last year, we decided to repeat the program but this time opening it up to new and returning participants.

126

Instructed by outstanding dance therapist Sivan Elefson, LMHC, R-DMT, the Miss Amazing Pageant, and dance4empowerment enjoyed another successful program!  With the help of over 15 volunteers, 13 participants with disabilities danced together and pulled inspiration from aspects of themselves that make them amazing.  The volunteers assisted the participants in making up dance moves and then they shared their unique moves with the group.  After everyone had shared, the group learned each other’s moves and put together a great dance that really portrayed everything that makes these girls amazing.  With excitement, they performed their dance to fun music for their parents.  The dance was truly amazing and was an awesome experience for all the girls! In addition to choreographing their dance, the girls participated in other therapeutic dance activities, including partner and group work using the colorful Octoband!  At the end of the day, the girls picked out beautiful dresses donated to the Miss Amazing Pageant for their upcoming pageant and were thrilled to show them off to us.  It was a wonderful day and another great experience partnering with the Miss Amazing Pageant.  Looking forward to the next one!

292

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

P.S. For more pictures from the program, click here!

Advertisements

dance4empowerment Update and More!

Needless to say, it has been an extremely busy semester so far.  I have had a lot going on between classes, work, and running dance4empowerment, but I plan to get back on schedule with regular blogging and updates.  To start off, I would like to share a short recap of the past few months.

My summer was even better than I could’ve imagined with an incredible job at the Ruderman Family Foundation, a volunteer position writing social stories for the Massachusetts General Hospital Down Syndrome Clinic, and a successful dance4empowerment program at Camp Ramah New England.  I am lucky to have had such amazing opportunities and I am excited about all that I learned during the summer.

I am honored to continue my work with the Ruderman Family Foundation remotely while I am at Emory University.  I recently helped the Foundation plan their first Inclusion Summit and was in Boston to witness its huge success!  I will share more about this rewarding experience in an upcoming blog post.

I am currently planning another dance4empowerment program in partnership with the Miss Amazing Pageant Massachusetts chapter which will take place in January. And, I am in the final weeks of my first semester as a sophomore.  I have changed the direction of my studies slightly to focus on disability studies and bioethics; I can’t wait for the courses I am enrolled in for the spring semester.

Moving forward, I plan to blog more regularly, especially with updates about dance4empowerment.  Below, are some topics I will be blogging about in the coming weeks.

  1. Working at the Ruderman Family Foundation During the Summer
  2. The Ruderman Inclusion Summit
  3. Volunteering with the MGH Down Syndrome Clinic
  4. Upcoming dance4empowerment Programs

Thank you so much to everyone who has continued to follow me on my journey.  I encourage you to share my blog with your friends and spread the word about the importance of inclusion!

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

Another Successful Program at Camp Ramah New England!

Two Fridays ago I got the pleasure of seeing Camp Ramah New England’s (CRNE) Tikvah campers perform a dance in front of the entire camp. This is a big deal for any camper as CRNE is a big camp, meaning a large audience, and each age group takes their opportunity to perform very seriously. Although I have joyfully watched the Tikvah campers perform many times while I was a camper at CRNE, this performance was special because it was made possible by my non-profit, dance4empowerment, partnering with CRNE. With the help of returning dance therapist Sivan Elefson, LMHC, R-DMT, this was our second successful dance program at the camp. Two summers ago, CRNE was the first organization to partner with dance4empowerment and hosted our pilot program.

IMG_5649

(Photo credits to Howard Blas @howardblas)

Since then, programming has been held in partnership with the Miss Amazing Pageant and briefly at Gateways. Even though I enjoy hearing about the success of all d4e partnerships, it is especially meaningful to me to have programs at CRNE because I am an alumni of the camp. In fact, I was first introduced to people with disabilities, which sparked my passion for inclusion and later dance4empowerment. So, you can only imagine how excited I was when Rabbi Ed Gelb, head of Camp Ramah New England, said the “performance was one of the best I have ever seen Tikvah do.” Moreover, I was delighted to hear that the goals of the program were met when Rabbi Gelb told me that the partnership “provided our Tikvah participants with an enriching and physically active experience.”

d4e CRNE t shirts final

I am so pleased with the results of this year’s program with CRNE and look forward to our continued partnership. It is always inspiring to see a dance4empowerment program in action and to see the hard work I’ve put into creating this vision pay off. I hope you will all keep following me on my journey and watch as dance4empowerment continues to grow!

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

Summer Update

Needless to say my first year of college at Emory University was a busy one. Between my school work, dance, and an internship I had a lot on my plate; still I made sure to spend time each week progressing and expanding dance4empowerment. Although I have been continuously working hard behind the scenes to keep dance4empowerment up and running, I didn’t find much time to keep you, my followers, updated on my progress. I would like to take the time now to tell you a bit about my first year of school, what I’m doing this summer, and my plans for next year.

To start off, I am excited to announce that I have declared a major! I decided I wanted a major tailored to my interests beyond the more general majors offered. So, I chose to do an Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) Major, which “allows students to structure their own program of study around a field of interests that they themselves define.” For my IDS major, I will be studying genetics and disabilities. Although these are neither majors nor minors at Emory, by taking courses in a variety of majors from anthropology to psychology and beyond, I will graduate with a strong understanding of my areas of interest. I am looking forward to all that I will learn because I will get to take an array of classes much more diverse than if I had chosen one of the more general majors and I will get to study a topic that I am deeply passionate about.

major

Second, I am proud to announce that I was recently selected as a finalist for the Diller Tikkun Olam Awards! Although I didn’t win the award, I am honored to be among 40 teens who submitted a variety of impressive ventures and projects; and, I would like to congratulate the winners who each received a $36,000 grant! I plan to apply one more time, for the final year I am eligible, and hope that this will be the year that I take home the award!

Diller Tikkun Olam Award Announcement 2015

This summer I am interning again for the Ruderman Family Foundation (RFF) in Newton, MA. Over the past few years I have enjoyed a strong relationship with RFF, I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work full time in their Boston office. Jay Ruderman (president of the Foundation), his colleagues and staff have been so welcoming to me. I was excited to be part of their first staff retreat, including staff from Israel, a few weeks ago and I plan to implement everything I learned.

  staff retreat

(Courtesy of Jay Ruderman @JayRuderman https://instagram.com/p/4mUdMEh5hZ/?taken-by=jayruderman)

Lastly, it is with great pleasure I share with you that dance4empowerment’s dance program is running in partnership with Camp Ramah New England this week! After months of hard work, organization, and the help of the Tikvah staff at CRNE and returning dance therapist Sivan Elefson, the program kicked off on Monday and will continue to run through the week. The program will culminate with a Shabbat performance Friday evening, I am really looking forward to being there to see the beautiful results of our program; please stay tuned for pictures and a video!

tikvah

(Courtesy of Howard Blas @howardblas)

That is all for now. Please continue to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and through our blog!

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

Celebrating Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month

I recently finished reading Ora Horn Prouser’s book Esau’s Blessing: How the Bible embraces those with Special Needs.  While the book focuses mainly on Esau’s story, several other characters from the Bible are portrayed. Prouser has an interesting take on some of the most well known stories in the Bible and her book is just one example of the many strides forward the Jewish community has made regarding inclusion.

In the final days of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, I would like to share my appreciation for all the Jewish organizations that have helped propel dance4empowerment forward over the past few years. I have been very fortunate to have been introduced to and involved with several incredible programs, organizations, foundations, and people working to foster inclusive communities and provide equal opportunities for people of all abilities.

After my first introduction to people with disabilities at Camp Ramah New England through their unique Tikvah program, my passion for inclusion was immediately sparked and, since, I have continued to seek out opportunities to work with people with disabilities.  I am proud to have been a volunteer at Gateways for three years; working one on one with an amazing teenager who was passionate about his Jewish identity.  Watching him grow and develop over the many Sunday mornings we spent together, was one of the most influential and inspiring experiences of my life. Additionally, I am grateful to three amazing organizations in Israel that I visited two years ago that continue to inspire me with all the work that they do.  My visits to Beit Issie Shapiro, SHALVA, and ALEH: Jerusalem, were significant in teaching me the power of motivation and patience.  Each organization plays an important role in making Israel a more inclusive and accessible place for people with disabilities and are models for others around the world. Although they are oversees, I have made strong connections with each organization and always look forward to visiting them when I’m in Israel.

Lastly, I want to thank the Jewish organizations and people in Boston who have taught me valuable lessons, crucial to the success of dance4empowerment.  From Gann Academy, the pluralistic Jewish high school I attended, to the Diller Teen Fellowship, which I participated in as a sophomore when the idea for dance4empowerment was elevated, I have been supported and encouraged by these communities. Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Ruderman Family Foundation have been enthusiastic about the work I am doing and have been incredible mentors.  And, I would be remiss if I did not thank Massachusetts State Representative Kay Khan for her meaningful guidance and encouragement.

More recently, since coming to Emory University, I have found incredible support in Hillel International’s Social Startup Fellowship.  I am so proud to be a member of many diverse and important Jewish communities and I am thankful for the role that each and every one has played in teaching and inspiring me.

And, so, it is with all these organizations and people in mind that I am excited to celebrate Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month and to be fostering the inclusion of people with disabilities through dance.  I hope that through dance4empowerment, I can continue to make an impact on the inclusiveness of the Jewish community. With each new step let us hope that Jewish communities around the world will continue to become more inclusive and celebrate their members’ many abilities!

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

Excited to be Part of the Hillel Social Startup Fellowship!

Last week I was invited to join a select group of other college students in Washington, DC. I was not sure what to expect when I applied for Hillel International’s Social Startup Fellowship, a program designed to jumpstart or reinvigorate innovators and entrepreneurs on college campuses across North America.  I thought the program sounded like an interesting opportunity to work on developing dance4empowerment among other motivated and passionate college students.  Imagine my excitement when I was accepted and informed that training starts in early February at Hillel’s headquarters in DC!
In preparation for the kick-off training session, I learned about the other Fellows’ innovative ideas.  I was impressed by the diversity of the group and the commitment of each student to their own project. Since starting at Emory, I have not met other students working on projects like dance4empowerment, students who commit an abundance of time and passion outside the classroom, so I was really looking forward to joining a small community of young entrepreneurs.  When I arrived at our first meeting, I immediately felt the energy in the room and I was ready to start learning how to raise dance4empowerment to the next level.
HSSUF group pic
Through a series of seminars and activities lead by the amazing Hillel and PresenTense staff, I learned so much about myself and dance4empowerment.  I haven’t really had the opportunity to step back and access my plans and/or goals since dance4empowerment was initially conceptualized.  Now, with the completion of only a small portion of the Fellowship curriculum, my ideas and plans are expanding and developing in new and unforeseen ways; I am exhilarated for the next portion of the program.
In the coming weeks, I will be paired with a mentor in the field of my venture who will guide me in further developing dance4empowerment.  I am looking forward to meeting my mentor and learning as much as possible from him/her.  I have been extremely fortunate to have met many impressive and inspiring people throughout my journey with dance4empowerment and I am so excited to have been given this new opportunity to make dance4empowerment a huge success!
I will be sharing more blogs about my experiences in the Hillel Social Startup Fellowship.  Please stay tuned and thank you for all your support along the way!
Dance, move, and empower,
Sierra

Exciting dance4empowerment Partnership with the Miss Amazing Pageant

I am very excited to share with you that this past weekend dance4empowerment hosted another successful event!
Over the summer, the Boston Celtics hosted their annual celebratory ceremony for all the season’s recipients of the Heroes Among Us awards.  The ceremony was heart warming and it gave me the opportunity to meet so many incredible heroes in our communities.  It was at this event when I met Andrea Nevins, co-Director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Miss Amazing Pageant, which celebrates the abilities of girls and women with disabilities.  Creating a partnership with Andrea’s program was a natural fit and, so, this past Sunday, we hosted our first joint program.
d4e MAM 1
dance4empowerment and the Miss Amazing Pageant offered the women and girls who participated in the pageant an opportunity to dance and go home with a beautiful party dress!  Sivan Elefson, the dance therapist who led the debut dance4empowerment program at Camp Ramah New England, led the dance portion of the pageant for the afternoon.  The girls had a wonderful time dancing together to their favorite songs! Unfortunately I could not watch the program run firsthand because I am at Emory University in Atlanta, GA but both Andrea and Sivan couldn’t wait to tell me that the dance program was a big success. My college schedule is very demanding but I am still motivated to continue expanding dance4empowerment’s reach.
d4e MAP 2
I am honored to have had the opportunity to help create such a fun and empowering program for the Miss Amazing Pageant participants. I want to thank Andrea for all her hard work helping to organize this great event and for running an amazing program. Thank you Sivan for sharing the same passion for dance as I do and for wanting to empower people with disabilities.  I look forward to sharing more exciting programs hosted by dance4empowerment.  If you know an organization or foundation that might be interested in partnering with dance4empowerment, please let us know!
d4e MAM 5
Dance, move, and empower,
Sierra