Most students who go to Israel to study in yeshiva, seminary or other gap-year programs, are interested in learning and enjoying their Israel experience. They are not looking for additional responsibilities. But, there are always a few unique individuals seeking more, for a way to give of themselves and make their time in Israel 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. What they don’t expect, is how much the experience will make a difference in their own lives.
“Volunteering at Shalva has been one of the highlights of my year here in Israel,” proclaims White Plains resident Danielle Kinches, a recent participant of Shalva’s Ambassador Program.
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. As Kinches and most volunteers will admit, 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.
“Since the first moment I walked in, I felt the warmth of Shalva throughout the building,” she says.
“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 Kinches, becoming a Shalva Ambassador was a life-changing experience that has profoundly impacted her perspective on life. “Every child is celebrated for who they are at Shalva and I am constantly impressed with how invested the staff are in each and every individual’s success and happiness.”
For Kinches and other 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.