Visiting the Ruderman Family Foundation in Rehovot, Israel

After a long delay leaving Boston due to weather, it was nice to enjoy my first full day in Israel since last year.  Besides visiting the Kotel, exploring Ben Yehuda Street, and eating delicious Israeli food, I met with Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation (RFF), and Ephraim Gopin, RFF’s Communications Director.  Overlooking the bucolic fields of Rehovot, I discussed the importance of the inclusion of people with disabilities in Boston and Israel with one of the most influential foundations in the field.  Over the past year, I have been very fortunate to learn from and receive support and inspiration from Jay; and, I’m excited to continue to work with Jay on the inclusion of people with disabilities in Boston and Israel.  In addition, it was great to finally meet Ephraim whom I have been interning with since the summer.  Ephraim has taught me so much about how to use social media to promote dance4empowerment; I am looking forward to our continued work together.

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(Jay Ruderman and Sierra Weiss)

I truly appreciate the time both Jay and Ephraim spent with me today discussing dance4empowerment’s goals and future. 

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

Almost One Year Later and Returning to Israel

Almost a year ago, I went to Israel to learn about creating inclusion and empowerment for people with disabilities from three of Israel’s pioneer programs.  I chose to travel to Israel because of my strong connection with the country and because I thought that Israel would provide the best opportunities to learn hands on about creating impactful programs for people with disabilities.  The trip was more than I could have asked for.  I was so inspired by the three foundations I visited and, further, have maintained strong relationships with them.  I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from such insightful and impressive leaders and look forward to visiting again.

I leave to Israel with my family next week; I am very excited to share my inspiration with them and to spend time together as a family.  It will be great to get to learn more about what I can do to improve and build on the foundation I’ve made for dance4empowerment now that we are up and running as a non-profit organization.  My last trip inspired me and taught me how to share the joy and love that I see in people with disabilities.  I hope to share my progress with my role models in Israel and to learn more from them. 

I started this blog for my last trip to Israel to share the benefits of dance for people with disabilities and to report on my progress.  Almost a year later, I reflect a lot on the progress of dance4empowerment and will continue to share all that I learn in Israel and into the future.  I want to take the time to thank everyone who has read my blog over the last year, who has supported me and influenced my work, and who believed in my ability and passion.  I hope you will all continue to follow me on my journey and help dance4empowerment continue to empower people with disabilities.

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

More inspiration found in Israel

I decided to come to Israel instead of visiting special needs programs locally because Israel has been the “pioneer” in creating programs for people with disabilities. Families from all over the world move to Israel in order for their children to benefit from their special needs programs. The programs that I visited in Israel each have a very unique quality that I want to include in the program I am developing in Boston; to provide therapy programs for people with special needs, to integrate them into the community and, in the process, to change the image of special needs. In addition, once my dance therapy program is up and running, I would like for there to be a connection between the students in my program and the students in the programs that I visited in Israel. Although my visit to Israel was short, it inspired me to continue on my path to create an empowering program for children with special needs in Boston.

Dance, move, empower,
Sierra

Volunteering with CJP

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Today I volunteered for CJP to show my appreciation to Barry Shrage and Elizabeth Sternberg for all of their support of my dance therapy program. Along with a group of college students from Boston, we created and painted a mural on the outside wall of a building outside of Haifa for and with the kindergartners. It was great to help them make their outdoor space more beautiful and to give them the opportunity to take part in the fun. Volunteering like this creates a great connection between volunteers and those being impacted. I was honored to be included today and further inspired by the positive impact we are capable of having on each other. This experience will continue to fuel my commitment to create a dance therapy program in the Boston area and to empower others.

Dance, move, and empower,
Sierra

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Another eye opening day in Israel

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My first stop today was at an amazing institution in Jerusalem called Aleh (http://www.aleh.org). Aleh provides for an average of 650 people with disabilities everyday, providing living space, life training, and outstanding therapies for everyone who comes to their facilities. What particularly stood out to me about the program was their ability to help the people with even the most extreme disabilities engage in everyday activities and learn life skills. During my tour I saw children of all ages and level of disabilities preparing for Pesach by cleaning dishes, vacuuming, and exercising their senses. I was inspired by what Aleh is doing for their patients, families, and also the integration of the community.
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Many people associate special needs facilities with sadness, but at my second stop today, Shalva (http://www.shalva.org), I witnessed an environment that was bright and full of activity. Our tour started off with a mini performance by the Shalva band and it was awesome. The musicians were having a great time playing beautiful music, singing, and expressing themselves. The music group performs outside Shalva including a performance for Shimon Perez and for the Shalva community, truly amazing! The director of the music club, Shai, spoke with me about the importance of providing students of any art therapy program the opportunity to perform and show off their progress, exactly what I want to provide for children with special needs in Boston. Shalva has created an outstanding and inspirational afterschool program that functions as a support center for families with children who have special needs. They provide a happy environment for the children to learn, grow, and be with their friends and along the way change the image of people with special needs.

Dance, move, and empower,
Sierra

First day of volunteering!

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Today I visited the “pioneers” of all inclusion programs in Israel at Beit Issie. Beit Issie aims to fulfill the needs of people with special needs of all ages and backgrounds, change the views of people in the community towards those with disabilities, and conduct research in the effectiveness of programs for people with special needs. It was really amazing for me to hear about where they started, with vision and determination, and how far they have come over the last 32 years. They give me hope for a bright future with the dance therapy program that I want to start in the Boston area.

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We started off the day by packaging Pesach gifts for IDF soldiers as a way for Beit Issie to give back. I enjoyed talking with the many women who were also volunteering and come to Beit Issie on a weekly basis to help out. After we were done with our volunteer work, we were given an extensive tour of Beit Issie’s amazing facilities. One especially interesting facility is their Snoozle Room. This room is a therapeutic way for children with special needs to exercise all of their senses in a very relaxed way. The room is white with different types of changing lights, ball pit, water bed, and much more. Of course, Beit Issie is home to many more great facilities and programs that you can read more about on their website at http://www.beitissie.org.il/.

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During my tour of Beit Issie what really stood out to me was their drive to have children with special needs included in their communities. They started an initiative of creating parks in Israel that are available to both children with handicaps and children without so that they can play together and make connections starting from a very young age. Beit Issie expanded on their idea of inclusion even more by creating a handicap character, Sivan, that will appear on Sesame Street soon and several of their facilities (i.e., pool and dental office) are open to the Ra’anana community. It was great to connect with a program that has similar goals of integrating people with special needs into the community.

I am now in Jerusalem and will be visiting two more special needs programs tomorrow. Can’t wait to share my experiences with you!

Dance, move, and empower,
Sierra