Important Social Media Milestones

This week, dance4empowerment reached two great achievements.  First, the @dance4empower Twitter account that shares inspiring content on the field of disabilities and inclusion throughout the world reached its first-year anniversary.  Since the creation of the Twitter account, over 230 people have followed us and many more have “favorited”, “retweeted”, and shared our content.  The next step is to create a Facebook account to share more content, pictures, and videos with everyone who follows us on Twitter and also those who don’t have Twitter accounts.
Our second milestone this week was getting our 3,oooth viewer on the dance4empowerment WordPress blog.  This is particularly exciting because the blog was the first form of social media I ever used to share the work I am doing, I am humbled by the number of people who have read and followed me throughout my journey.
One significant chapter of my journey that recently came to a close was high school and my senior project called Ma’avar.  Gann Academy offered me so many opportunities to further my passion for dance and the inclusion of people with disabilities.  I am thankful for the time I was given to perform an Independent Research and Design project on the genetics of Down’s syndrome and the week I spent learning from the pioneers of inclusion in Israel.  Although Ma’avar technically came to a close last week, I will continue my work into the summer and spend more time interning at the MA State House and for the Ruderman Family Foundation.
I am learning so much from both of my internships and having incredible experiences.  In my internship at the Ruderman Family Foundation, I am learning important lessons on social media and SEO ratings.  I am grateful to Jay Ruderman, President of the RFF, for the opportunity to intern for his family’s inspiring Foundation.  I have been interning for the RFF for over a year now and am honored to work with such a talented, thoughtful, and impressive group of people.
Additionally, I am glad to continue as an intern in Representative Kay Khan’s office in the MA State House.  Rep. Khan is the House Chair on the Joint Committee for Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities.  She shares my passion for dance and is a leader in making Massachusetts a more inclusive city for people with disabilities.  I was honored to have her join me at my graduation and look forward to working in her office throughout the summer. One of the many opportunities given to State House interns is a series of seminars hosted twice daily.  A variety of speakers come to share their experiences working in the State House, including House Representatives, Senators, and even the Governor.  Last week I attended a seminar by the Speaker of the House, Speaker DeLeo.  He shared his experiences with us and, most inspirational, was his response to a question about his greatest success during his career at the State House.  After some thought, he decided that the accomplishment he was most proud of was the impact that he had on a specific mother of two children with autism.  When he initially met this woman, they discussed legislation that would improve the lives of people with autism and other disabilities as they aged out of the school system.  This legislation was eventually passed and, when he ran into this woman again, she thanked him for all the work that he did to make the lives of her children better.  To Speaker DeLeo, seeing the impact he could have on this woman and her two children was extremely special to him and truly inspirational to me.  It taught me that, in the end, it doesn’t matter how many people follow the dance4empowerment Twitter account or read our blog, but how every step I take to further dance4empowerment can affect the students who will participate in the program.  I hope to take his words with me in everything I do and I feel fortunate to know that I have already made an impact on people along the way.
 
Dance, move, and empower,
Sierra
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Inspiring Performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre

Last Thursday night my family and I went to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre for my mum’s birthday.  Although the evening was meant to celebrate my mum, the performance was so inspirational and appealed to me not just as a dancer, but in light of the work I do with dance4empowerment as well.

Alvin Ailey was an African American choreographer and an activist who founded the dance company in New York that bears his name. The goal of his dance company was to celebrate African-American culture through dance and movement. Drawing upon his childhood memories of oppression and segregation, Ailey popularized modern dance in the 20th century and, further, revolutionized African-American participation in dance performances.  Having recently visited the South on a Civil Rights journey, I was touched by Alvin Ailey’s story and impressed with his passion for dance. The legacy of Ailey’s commitment to dance and to his heritage was apparent in Thursday night’s performance. 

Ailey’s strong commitment to his “unique” community spoke to me the most as my non-profit, dance4empowerment, works towards the inclusion of people with disabilities.  My goal is to bring dance to as many people with disabilities in our communities as a means of self-expression and growth.  And, like Ailey, I hope that my program will continue to expand, improve, and influence over time.

CJP Grant and Other News

Last week I spent several days on a Civil Rights Journey organized through my high school, Gann Academy. Each year students are provided an opportunity to spend Exploration week learning outside the classroom in local and other U.S. programs. Last year, I was fortunate to spend Exploration Week learning from pioneer foundations for people with disabilities in Israel, a program I developed and received approval for from Gann.  I expected my trip this year to be a completely different experience from my trip last year; however, I found myself thinking about very similar ideas.

As I traveled through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, I spent a lot of time thinking about segregation, integration, and my personal connection to the Civil Rights movement.  It was frightening to think that slavery, racism, and the terrible violence and hatred that came with it once had such a strong presence in this country and that it was not that long ago. And, although there is still a divide between black and white, thankfully the gap is getting smaller.  Life in the South is still quite different than in New England, however, major changes in thinking have been made in the last 50 years.

Throughout our trip we met influential leaders of the Civil Rights movement, like Freedom Rider Charles Person and Attorney Fred Gray; they were kind enough to share their experiences as African Americans in the deep South.  We also met with a variety of other people who were either involved with or impacted by the Civil Rights movement; their experiences were all very different but shared the same life lessons.  They told us that as teenagers in a rapidly changing world, we must do everything we can to change the injustices we see in the world and, further, to find our passions and fight for them. I feel very fortunate to have already found something I am passionate about – making our community more inclusive for people with disabilities.  During my journey through the South, I thought about the separation and inequality in today’s world for people with disabilities and I know that we must do better.

Another opportunity provided to students at Gann is during Senior year is Maavar, a three month time period in which we are given “free” time to work on a project or hold an internship aligned with our specific interests.  Therefore, starting this week, I will focus the majority of my time dedicated to enhancing the dance4empowerment program.  With the recent Combined Jewish Philanthropies Connection and Engagement Grant* I received, I will continue to create more dance programs and push for more inclusion in our communities. In addition, I will be interning at the State House for Representative Kay Khan learning invaluable lessons in the world of politics.

Please stay connected as I share my progress!

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

 

*One-time Grants of up to $5,000 for innovative initiatives (programs, events and experiences) that support a welcoming and inclusive Jewish community and access to Jewish life.  Initiatives are targeted to under-connected or under-engaged populations such as families with young children, interfaith couples and families, and any other cohorts who have not found a way to connect or engage within our community

Honored to Receive Channel 7 News’ Class Act!

Last Thursday I was sitting in my biology class working on a lab report when a TV crew came in and started setting up.  Not sure what was going on, I continued to work with my lab partner; the last thing I expected was that our surprise visitors were there for me.  Before I knew it, two reporters from Boston’s Channel 7 News began to explain why they were visiting our classroom. 

The Class Act is a special feature on Channel 7 News that highlights “students who deserve to be recognized for doing something outstanding academically, athletically or for their community”.  To my surprise, they were presenting the award to me!  Gann Academy, my high school, has been extremely supportive of the work I’ve been doing for children with disabilities through dance4empowerment and nominated me for this award.  This recognition is humbling and I am grateful to be part of such a compassionate community. More importantly, the award provides me the opportunity to get the word out about dance4empowerment because, in the end, our goal is to improve the lives of the participants in the program.

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The mission of dance4empowerment is to help children with disabilities improve their self-esteem, social integration, and cognitive awareness through dance.  Further, we want to empower them to share their new skills of “creative expression” to raise money for communities that lack funding for inclusive art programs.  Being a recipient of Channel 7’s Class Act award helps me share dance4empowerment’s mission with the greater community and to reach more perspective students.  I feel very fortunate to receive this award because of the affect I know it will have on many future students.

I would like to thank Gann Academy for all their support and to Channel 7 News for featuring dance4empowerment on their program; I will share the date and time that the feature will be airing!

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Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

Dancing with Inclusion -Jay Ruderman

I am so honored to introduce Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, as a guest blogger for dance4empowerment.  His dedication to raising awareness, providing opportunities, creating change for people with disabilities in Boston, Israel, and throughout the world is truly inspiring.  I am very fortunate for his support in my endeavors to create and expand dance4empowerment.  

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

 

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I am President of a foundation that believes in the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish community and society at large. Some would say it’s a lofty idea but too hard to implement. It’s too difficult to change people’s perceptions, tough to erase pre-existing prejudices, too costly or we’re just not ready. I hear this all the time and my answer is: it takes two to tango.

Before learning to dance, you size up your partner: they may not be the same height or same weight, they look clumsy, they’re nervous. In short, they look different from you and you’re very unsure how this will work out. 

But then the music starts. You begin to move in tandem, you work together, you start to move flawlessly across the dance floor. Suddenly, what seemed like a potential weakness becomes a strength: you play off of each other. It takes time, it takes patience and you’ll have to work through many potential failures and missteps. But at the end of the journey, you’ve learned to tango! 

Inclusion is not as difficult as it seems. Yes, some people with disabilities may look or act different. Yes, it takes time and patience to work with them, get to know them and learn how to include them. But EVERYONE has potential, everyone can contribute, everyone can improve our community.

The Jewish community is an amazing community, one that is dedicated to social justice, tikkun olam (healing the world) and has been at the forefront of every social movement of the last half century. We have the ability to exact lasting change within society at large. The time has come to do the same within our own community for the 20% of our people who have a disability.

It takes two to tango. Take the first step. The end results will be extremely satisfying.

Jay Ruderman is the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

 

dance4empowerment in the News!

dance4empowerment was featured in two publications this week, the Boston Globe and the Jewish Advocate.  I am honored that the Boston community has taken notice of the program and we will continue to promote inclusion for people with disabilities.  Please see images below and feel free to spread the word!

Article in the Boston Globe:

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Article in the Jewish Advocate:

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Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

From Gann Academy Happenings: Gann Senior Leads Charge in Dance Therapy Program

 

I’m honored to share this article that Gann Academy posted earlier today about dance4empowerment and my involvement with people with disabilities.  Thank you Gann for your ongoing support! 

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

 

In between college applications and dance classes, Sierra Weiss ’14 is a committed volunteer, a State House intern and President/Founder of dance4empowerment.

dance4empowerment — a non-profit organization that develops dance programs for people with disabilities and funds inclusive art programs in Boston — was born through experience as a camper and counselor-in-training at Camp Ramah in New England, support from mentors and peers at Gann Academy, and a deep passion for dance and its therapeutic nature.
 
In her second to last year as a camper at Camp Ramah, Weiss participated in an elective that allowed her to contribute to the Tikvah program, a full overnight camp experience for Jewish children with disabilities. “I found them to be very inspiring, and very humbling,” says Weiss. “I really wanted to give back to the Tikvah campers at Ramah for sharing so much with me.”
 
Gann Academy was very supportive of her newfound interest. In her junior year at Gann, she participated in the Academy’s Exploration Week — a week to learn outside of the traditional classroom through planned national or local trips. Gann gave Weiss the flexibility to create her own trip, during which she traveled to Israel to learn more about the pioneer foundations available for Israeli children with disabilities. That same year, she did an Independent Research and Design (IRaD) project on the genetics of Down’s syndrome. “I was interested in learning more of the genetic background of people with disabilities, and I think that it was really amazing that Gann gave me the opportunity to further my studies and understanding of the students I was working with,” she says.
 
A dancer at Joanne Langione Dance Center in Newton since seventh grade, Weiss decided the best way to empower her Tikvah campers was through a dance program. “Because dance is such a therapeutic time for me, giving me time to reflect on my week, express myself, have fun, and make new connections I wanted to bring dance to Ramah,” she says.
 
As a counselor-in-training, she organized for a dance therapist to spend two days teaching a therapy program to the campers. The dance therapist cancelled last minute. “I think it may have turned out for the better,” she says. The change of plans allowed her to work with a dance instructor at Camp Ramah and teach the Tikvah campers a dance to be performed in front of the entire camp.
 
After her first successful program at Camp Ramah and her experiential learning through Gann, Weiss says she met with several mentors, cemented her idea and goals, and decided to incorporate as a non-profit. Today, dance4empowerment is a vision that supports existing programs, like the Tikvah program and Gateways Access to Jewish Life in Newton. At Gateways, a Sunday school program for individuals with disabilities, she volunteers weekly, leading movement programs in a ten-student classroom. She hopes to soon double the size of the Gateways program and expand into a second ten-student classroom.
 
“I had the pleasure of getting to know Sierra when she sought out an internship with the Ruderman Family Foundationand eventually worked for us this past summer,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the organization. “Rarely do I meet a young person with the drive, focus and entrepreneurial spirit as I found in Sierra [and] I was continually impressed by her and believe she will have many successes in life.”
 
After her college applications are drafted, perfected, and mailed out, Weiss says she’ll have more time to create additional partnerships for dance4empowerment—one of which she hopes will be Joanne Langione Dance Center. “We have a huge recital every year in June, and I think it’d be really amazing if there were more students with disabilities performing,” she says. “It would give them something to be proud of and something to look forward to.”