By Guest Blogger Beth Steinberg, Shutaf Co-founder
Yoni’s face lit up as he described a challenging experience during Shutaf’s Hannukah inclusion camp in late December. “Yoni dealt with a child who was having a tough day and needed to be outside much of the day,” explains Moriah, a social work student and teen advisor. Daily meetings with Moriah and the rest of the teen staff cover strategies for coping with the stresses of a busy day working with 12 active and lively campers, ages 6-14, 75% of whom have some sort of special need. “He wanted to be outside…I also like being outside,” explains Yoni, continuing, “and I saw that it was good for him.”
Yoni, who is 17 and has special needs, is a member of the Shutaf Young Leadership and Ruderman Vocational Training Program in Israel. During the year, this inclusive group of teens – ages 16-21 – enjoys a variety of age-appropriate activities. Yoni just started the personal safety and empowerment section of this year’s program with El Halev, an organization that specializes in self-defense training for women as well as special populations. In the spring, the teens will take part in a culinary training segment which will include planning, preparing, packaging and selling a food product – all important skills toward developing confident and capable young adults who can successfully navigate in the greater society.
His mother Susan is so pleased that he can take part in the program. “He’s learning and doing practical things and having a good time socially…nowhere else can he get these opportunities,” she remarked. She is delighted that Shutaf has taken an interest in teens with special needs, adding, “he’s pleased and proud to be a counselor.”
Shutaf’s Program Director, Elizabeth Corlin, detailed a conversation she had with El Halev’s trainer, Emouna. “She has already seen a difference in Yoni this year…He’s toughening up and learning how to say no as well as how to whack the heck out of the punching bag,” she said with a smile.” All important skills for this quiet, shy and thoughtful teen. He wanted, needed and deserved more than just going to school and not having social outlets as well as a way of preparing for his future.”
Creating opportunities, learning self-advocacy, making new friends, and feeling in charge of one’s life – in an atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance. For all Shutaf teens – with and without special needs – it’s a fantastic experience.
– Beth Steinberg