About this post: February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion month. If you are interested in sharing an experience or story you have had relating to this topic, reach out to JessicaBank@juf.org.
Since the sixth grade, I’ve been spending my summers at JCC Camp Chi. While I had a blast every summer, it was usually always the same. Same food, same lake, same camp songs. Then on a random sweaty day in July in 2018, I was introduced to Keshet. Who knew then that it would set me on a path that would come to hold so much meaning in my life now and for my future?
On that day, my friend and I were looking for things to do during some down time and decided to play sports with campers who came to camp with Keshet support. Keshet supported campers are those with different and diverse needs and abilities who require additional staff support and program modification to ensure they have successful summer experiences. From the moment we were introduced, something clicked. That one hour was a blast and I knew I wanted to continue hanging out with these kids.
I came home from camp and found out more about Keshet’s fantastic Sunday program called SOAR, where I started volunteering. This program helps teens and adults with disabilities learn life skills and help in the community through Jewish values. I immediately fell in love with this program and the participant I worked alongside with. Before I knew it, I graduated high school with over 200 community service hours from volunteering at SOAR.
Five years since my first Keshet interaction, I now live in Chicago for college and commute back to the suburbs every Sunday to work for this program. Over the years, I started working on more recreation programs when I’m available. I have managed to create bonds with so many more participants than I ever thought I would.
While I spend every Sunday helping teach these participants life skills through volunteerism and community service, they have taught me more than I could have ever imagined. I have learned patience and compassion on a whole other level than what I knew before. They have shown me how to modify everything I do and every interaction to ensure that everyone's needs are met. I've discovered that our interests are more similar than I thought. The support and guidance from the Keshet staff I now work with have opened my world to those living with all sorts of different needs.
I would not be who I am today without all the people, both participants and staff, I’ve met through my journey with Keshet who have now become my friends. I am so grateful for that sweaty day in July 2018 and every moment that has come since then in my involvement with Keshet.
If you are looking to do something fun and incredibly meaningful, check out all Keshet's volunteer opportunities by visiting them online at
www.keshet.org and fill out an application to get started today!
About the Author: Jacqueline is a Sophomore at DePaul University in Chicago studying journalism. She spends her Sundays working in the suburbs at Keshet’s Sunday program, SOAR, along with other recreation programs. Throughout the week she occasionally writes for The DePaulia about things going on in the city and on-campus. During the summers she works as a songleader at JCC Camp Chi teaching different types of music lessons and leading Shabbat services every week.