I had been looking to explore another world—a space to give me purpose, pause, and reflection. I needed to briefly step aside from my work in the states to return to a place that would both fulfill my commitment to service and allow me to reconnect with the country I had been away from for 30 years. I would be traveling to my other homeland. Having only two weeks to volunteer in Israel made my placement options somewhat limited, but Terry and Marla were quick to assure me that they would make it happen. They followed through with their promise and included experiences that were beyond my expectations. I am 47 years old, which is a bit younger than their typical Skilled volunteer, but I would discover that age would never present a problem. Israel was calling me home.
The communication flowed during the months and weeks before my departure and it was obvious that I was in good hands. Terry arranged for an e-mail “meet and greet” with my volunteer placement and I received a lovely introduction to the staff and immediately felt comfortable with the match. Terry, who is permanently planted in Israel, has her fingerprint on every non-profit in Jerusalem and has proven herself a champion matchmaker!
Stephanie (2nd from right) with the Shutaf Team
Shutaf was going to be my place of work during my expedition and I couldn’t have been more excited. This is an organization that provides inverse inclusionary activities for children and young adults with varying disabilities. This is a cause close to my heart and a picture-perfect match for my 15 years of experience working with the same population offering the same types of programming. So you can only imagine my pure delight when I was invited to collaborate with amazing people who have dedicated themselves to providing every opportunity to these youngsters that their nondisabled peers enjoy. I was so impressed to learn about their inverse inclusion model and left with lots of ideas to implement and share with my own staff back home in Bucks County, PA.
Marla, Terry, and two other members of the Skilled Volunteers for Israel met me for coffee my first morning in Jerusalem. The greeting was complete with warm and welcoming hugs and kisses. We met at Ben Ami Cafe, which quickly became my morning routine. After playing an amazing round of Jewish geography, I was provided with helpful information and a walking tour of the area. For the next fourteen days, I had decided to call German Colony my home. I didn’t realize how perfect that location would be as well. It was a seamless transition from beginning to end. Terry met me the morning of my first day of work and helped me navigate the bus and walking directions as a back-up. She was there to accompany me for my initial meetings with the Shutaf staff, which was extremely comforting and helpful.
Sometimes, volunteering even includes puppies at the office!
As soon as we began talking and sharing about our common mission for inclusion, my admiration for these dedicated professionals went into overdrive. Ninety minutes flew by and Marci Tirschwell, the Program Director, had a clear picture of how my time should be spent. I was tasked with developing a social skills curriculum focusing on community and safety skills. I met with the team over the course of two weeks, had the opportunity to meet with co-founders, Beth Steinberg and Miriam Avraham, in addition to being invited to attend a board meeting. I also had the privilege of attending an after school program offered by Shutaf and spent an enjoyable evening with teens who prepared a delicious dinner in a makeshift kitchen. I muddled through with my broken Hebrew and they were gracious and welcoming using their English. I felt immediately at home. In fact, at the end of the night, the teens gathered in circle to recap their evening together and say their good byes. I was standing off to the side observing this ritual of kindness and community and one of the young ladies sought me out and directed me to join the circle. That moment completed my journey and nourished my soul. I am forever impacted by my time in Israel and have no words to express my gratitude to Terry and Marla for making it a reality.
Stephanie DeSouza, Yardley, PA