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

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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

dance4empowerment happenings

This morning was Gateways’ first session of the academic year.  Gateways provides high quality special education services for Jewish children with disabilities. The expertise and support at Gateways help the students succeed in a Jewish educational setting and participate in a meaningful Jewish life.  I volunteer one on one with a student at Gateways in activities inspired by Jewish holidays; and, we practice social skills and learn Hebrew in preparation for his bar-mitzvah.  In addition, I am introducing dance4empowerment movement program to Gateways this year!   So, today, as part of this new programming, we used dance as a tool for the students and volunteers to introduce themselves and remember each other’s names.  With dance moves inspired by some of the Fall’s Jewish holidays, students picked a move to match their name for everyone to repeat and dance along to.  It was so great to see how focused the students were when they danced or repeated movements.  This will be dance4empowerment’s first year long program; I look forward to watching the progress and the performance at the end of the year.

The beginning of the academic year also brought about a few more firsts for dance4empowerment.  We were contacted by our first volunteer, an eager dancer who would like to help dance4empowerment as part of her bat-mitzvah project!  dance4empowerment also received its first donation which will be used to purchase supplies for the movement program at Gateways. Please visit dance4empowerment’s new website, http://dance4empowerment.org , and find out how you can help too.

Thank you so much for your support and encouragement. Please continue to follow dance4empowerment and help spread the word about our program!

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra