In one room, four pre-teen girls closely followed the complicated sequence of Zumba steps their teacher, Lisa, was doing in time to the music. In an adjacent room, a small group of children, aged 6-13, sat in a circle petting a variety of animals brought in by Aryeh, a volunteer from the community. One boy finally worked up the courage to pet a rooster (more than I could do); another stroked the soft fur of a white a rabbit; and others carefully held guinea pigs, and other tame animals. Downstairs in the gym, under the supervision of a gym teacher, two teams were engaged in a spirited obstacle course-type relay race involving running, balancing on a beam, and aiming a basketball into a net. A preteen unable to run due to a back injury, participated by serving as the timekeeper with her Smartphone. But, winning or losing didn’t really seem to matter; it was all about being in the best place to be for having fun, socializing, cooperating, and getting exercise.
Marci, the Program Director of Shutaf’s informal, inclusive education program had been giving me a tour of the inclusive afterschool activities held two afternoons a week at the Jerusalem YMCA. It was important for me to see and appreciate first-hand one of the Shutaf programs in action.
Arranged by Skilled Volunteers for Israel (https://skillvolunteerisrael.org/), I was a volunteer from the U.S. for a month. Thus far, I had been spending my time working within the Shutaf office alongside Beth and Miriam, the organization’s founders; Marci and Yoni, a staff professional), with Elizabeth, the Director of Educational Partnerships, and Rebecca, another volunteer from the U.S.
Meeting four days a week at the office, we collaborated on key issues: program planning, grant writing, and program assessment. We clarified ideas about each program’s goals and objectives (for the after school program at the YMCA), camp programs (the week before Passover and for three weeks in the summer), and the different units specially designed for the teens. For example, we documented what had occurred during a teen unit on going to a restaurant, and another on sex education. We listed the ways in which these units resulted in a positive impact on the teen participants. For the restaurant unit, we discussed how the teens succeeded in learning appropriate restaurant behavior, how to order, and what it meant to converse over a meal. We worked on formulating and refining plans to share with current and future donors, to ensure that they would understand and financially support Shutaf’s many, valuable programs.
I have come to appreciate that no matter where you may be—at the YMCA, at camp, taking a field trip with the teens, or working at the office with extraordinary colleagues—Shutaf is the best place to be , not only for the program participants, but also for a volunteer.
Thank you, Shutaf!
Judith Zorfass, February 24, 2015
P.S. And the extra bonus for me was that it was the best place to be for the month of February—who cared about a Jerusalem snowstorm (we had much, much worse back home in Boston).