I was first introduced to children with disabilities four summers ago at Camp Ramah in New England (CRNE) in Palmer, MA. CRNE’s Tikvah program offers an overnight camp experience for Jewish children with a large spectrum of disabilities. As a “regular” camper I was given the opportunity to interact with the Tikvah campers as I got older and I loved the experience of playing sports, exercising, and just hanging out with the Tikvah campers. I became so enamored with these campers that last summer I volunteered as a CIT (counselor in training) in the Tikvah program and, throughout the school year, I volunteer at Gateways which provides me the opportunity to help children with disabilities learn, function in a classroom, be social, and connect with Judaism and Hebrew.
During my last summer as a camper at CRNE, I decided to combine my passion for dance (I dance five hours a week at the Joanne Langione Dance Center in Newton, MA) with my love and admiration for children with disabilities and started working on a special dance program for the Tikvah campers. I worked with the head of the dance therapy program at Lesley University, as well as several dance therapists locally. Although I was unable to run the program last summer, I am busy setting up the dance therapy program for this summer!
With my newly acquired leadership skills learned as a Boston Diller Teen Fellow last year and the encouragement of local inspirational leaders, I decided to set the bar higher by starting a dance therapy program for children with disabilities in the Boston area called CHEETA (Children Helping Empower Each other Through Art). My goal with this program is to help children with disabilities in the Greater Boston area improve their self-esteem and empower them through dance therapy.
I recently visited Israel to learn more about art therapies for people with disabilities and connect with professionals working in this field. The visit provided me with valuable insight and knowledge regarding the different needs and services as well as the therapies and treatments that are benefiting the disabilities community.
After returning from Israel, I visited the Ruderman Family Foundation offices to meet with Jay Ruderman and the foundation’s staff. Their expertise in the field and advice going forward were very encouraging and inspiring.
The Creative Arts Therapies Research Center believes that the body and mind are an interrelated continuum; that through movement and dance, a person with disabilities “can creatively explore and enhance emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration.” CHEETA will provide dance therapy to people with disabilities to empower them and give them the opportunity to make a difference in the world. I am confident CHEETA will become a reality and a success.
Sierra Weiss is a junior at Gann Academy in Waltham, MA and volunteers weekly at Gateways. Sierra has been working diligently for the past year to create the dance program CHEETA. To learn about her progress, please visit her blog.
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