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A Perfect Match!

Updated: Apr 3

“Collaboration” could easily be my middle name. My professional life within the educational, nonprofit world depended on working closely with colleagues.  Collaborating to generate ideas, brainstorm, create diagrams, and organize ideas into charts for strategic planning was the modus operandi I had become accustomed to.  It was second nature after directing many different U.S. Department of Education grants for 30 years that focused on aspects of special education.

So, as a volunteer, I felt right at home at Shutaf ( in Jerusalem.  The organization’s mission is to provide quality, informal education, inclusive programming for children, teens, and young adults with a range of disabilities.  They run an afterschool program several afternoons a week, a camp before Passover, and a summer camp that includes participants both with and without disabilities.  They work to ensure that their staff will reach high standards of professionalism.   The result is that all participants benefit. Story after story tells about the successful development of social, emotional, behavioral, and life skills.

While Shutaf carries out these important, ongoing activities, they have plans for growth.  For example, they are considering ways to expand programming for young adults with disabilities, create a professional inclusive education certificate, conduct workshops and consultations, and develop a toolkit aimed at helping the general population to deepen awareness and knowledge about disabilities.  As you can imagine, every initiative requires funding; therefore, outreach, networking, marketing, and grant writing activities are critical.

So where did I fit in?  It seemed that we were off and running from the very beginning when Beth, Miriam, Elizabeth, Marci, Yoni, and Rebecca opened the door at Shutaf, welcomed me warmly, offered me a cup of tea, pulled out a (comfortable) chair at the table, turned on the space heaters to keep me warm (it was February), and opened a document from Google docs.

We were compatible from those very first minutes. Beyond the fundamental level of having a shared philosophy and approach to pedagogy, our work styles mirrored each other.   No one was ever shy about expressing his or her ideas; we captured ideas on the whiteboard; we understood the importance of clarifying, refining, and revising ideas; and we documented those ideas.  From the start, I felt comfortable. It was almost as if we had been collaborating together for years, instead of for days.

Credit for the perfect match goes to Skilled Volunteers for Israel (SVFI) and Marla Gamoran, my original contact.  From the initial inquiry email, to the phone interview, to the application process, to Marla’s suggestions of different opportunities based on her scouting, and to finally narrowing down the choice, she displayed exceptional ability.  Marla listened carefully so she could understand my background, needs, and interests in order to find just the right placement.  And she did.

Everyone at Shutaf made me feel like a colleague, not a volunteer. I want to thank all of them for the opportunity to work alongside extraordinary people who make such a significant contribution to a much overlooked and underserved population. Their ability to develop these capabilities within an organization poised for further growth is yet a greater testimonial to their work.

In addition to Marla at SVFI, I want to particularly thank Terry Hendin for her continued, on-the-ground support in Jerusalem.

Judith Zorfass, Jerusalem, February 19, 2015

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