“I look forward to visiting my Shalva kids each week because it’s such a happy and caring environment” explains Miriam Radinsky, a recent participant of Shalva’s Ambassador Program along with Bayli Jacobson, Moshe Stuart, Michal Karben, Uri Gordon, Sara Katz, Atara Sprung, Yoni Deutsch, Michal Beer, and Yehuda Rephen. Most students who come to Israel to study in yeshiva, seminary or other gap-year programs, are interested in learning and enjoying their Israel experience, they’re not looking for additional responsibilities. And there are always a few unique individuals seeking more, for a way to give of themselves and make their time in Israel even more meaningful. Volunteering at Shalva, the largest and most advanced center for inclusion and disability care in Israel, offers the kind of experience that makes giving so rewarding. Rain or shine, once a week for the entire year, these dedicated volunteers leave the comfort of their English-speaking environments to dedicate their time to making a difference in the lives of children with disabilities. But what they don’t expect, is how much the experience will make a difference in their own lives.
Since 2016, Shalva’s new volunteer Ambassadors Program has become a critical component of the organization. More than 130 young adults from abroad volunteer through the program, offering backbone support to Shalva’s leading programs and providing much needed, personal attention to Shalva’s children. Their genuine care, friendship and positivity are an immense contribution to the organization. Over the course of one year, they become integral members of the Shalva family and form close bonds with Shalva’s children and staff. While it’s not always easy, these dedicated volunteers extend themselves much beyond their comfort zones to connect with children of various disabilities and to overcome the language barrier. But as most volunteers will tell you, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. Volunteers are often surprised to discover how much they look forward to spending time with Shalva’s special children. “Shalva has given me the ability to grow so much in the realm of working with children with special needs. And the nerves that I had on the first day are now all gone and instead I wait with excitement for Wednesday’s to come so I can be with the kids” (Karben).
“In addition to the direct impact these volunteers make in the lives of Shalva’s children, the Ambassadors Program offers students an opportunity to become influential leaders of their respective student bodies,” explains Sammy Schechter, Shalva’s Overseas Volunteer Coordinator. Shalva Ambassadors impact their social circles by spreading awareness of Shalva’s core message of inclusion, the importance of cultivating love, hope and human dignity, and by engaging their peers in fundraising efforts for Shalva’s advocacy initiatives. Participating Ambassadors recruit their friends to run with Team Shalva in the annual Jerusalem Marathon and to get involved with other seasonal events throughout the year.
For each individual, becoming a Shalva Ambassador was a life-changing experience that has profoundly impacted her perspective on life. “Shalva has given me a reason to smile at every point in life, through the tough times and the tougher times” (Stuart).
For each of our volunteers, their pivotal experience at Shalva helped them realize their personal responsibility as leaders in the Jewish community, and that is something that extends much beyond one year in Israel, it’s a life-long mission.
Shalva, Israel’s Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, provides support services for thousands of individuals from infancy to adulthood and their families. Non-denominational and free of charge, Shalva’s programs offer a comprehensive range of therapies, inclusive educational frameworks, recreational activities, respite and family support. Shalva empowers and enables families to raise their children with disabilities within the family framework; and partners with communities worldwide as well as government, academic, and cultural institutions to create a more inclusive society. Located in Jerusalem, the Shalva National Center is the largest and most advanced center for inclusion and disability care in Israel, changing the standard of disability services and impacting the lives of people with disabilities in Israel and around the world.
For more information visit: www.shalva.org: Inspiring Hope. Changing Lives.